When purchasing puppies goes pear-shaped

16th April 2021

It will not be news to any of us that the number of dogs and puppies purchased during (and indeed since) the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020 has increased dramatically. With people spending more time at home and working from home during lockdowns, it is now thought that as many as a quarter of the UK population own a dog and many are looking to buy in the next six months.

However, purchasing puppies during lockdown and beyond – often online, without meeting breeders or without even meeting the puppy sometimes – has caused some concerns for consumers and presents significant risks. Before making any payment, we would always recommend that you carry out research on the breeders, meet the puppy that you are buying and ensure that you are happy with the puppy, but we understand this may not always have happened.

Cases are now coming to light dealing with matters including puppies which have been purchased that are unwell or have health defects, resulting in large vets’ bills, or puppies that have been inadvertently purchased from puppy farms, meaning your puppy is not the pedigree breed you were after. So where do you stand if your puppy purchase goes pear shaped? 

The law

Provided the seller is acting as a trader (for example, a professional breeder) and you, as buyer, are acting as a consumer (so are not looking to use the dog as a working dog, police dog, guard dog, guide dog and so forth), the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will imply certain terms in the sale contract for the goods (in this case, the puppy). This means that there are implied terms in the sale contract, notably:

  • The puppy will be of a satisfactory quality. In looking at this, any description of the puppy (for example in an advertisement or online) will be considered
  • The puppy will be fit for its purpose
  • The puppy matches the description that it has been given (for example, colour, breed, health)

Whilst it is always recommended to document contracts in writing, it is possible for there to be a valid oral contract providing that there is an offer, acceptance, consideration (payment), certainty of terms and an intention to create a contract, meaning that a lack of a written contract is not necessarily a disaster.

Pendragon v Coom [2021]

The recent case of Pendragon v Coom [2021] EW Misc 4 (CC) is an appeal case that considers what remedies or damages are available to consumers in respect of ‘defective dogs’.

Mrs Coom purchased an old English sheepdog puppy, Lady, for £1,000 from Ms Pendragon, a professional breeder. Within a few months of Mrs Coom buying the puppy, she discovered Lady had two conditions, diabetes and hip dysplasia. Both are common conditions, and both were latent at birth in Lady.

Mrs Coom commenced proceedings on the basis that she had purchased Lady in good faith, thinking she would be healthy, and submitted a claim for £5,000 which covered the costs Mrs Coom had paid for a number of operations for Lady. Mrs Coom was awarded the full price she paid for Lady of £1,000 in addition to an amount of £3,006.11 in respect of veterinary fees, and court fees.

Ms Pendragon appealed. Ms Pendragon argued that Lady was of satisfactory quality as, being a living animal, there could be no guarantee that Lady (or any other animal) was free of all undetected defects and health problems. This argument was not successful – the appeal judge held that whilst any animal may have a latent health condition or defect, that does not mean that an animal’s condition could not be considered unsatisfactory.

Importantly, however, this appeal case confirms the following in respect of damages and the approach that consumers should take:

  • Damages for breach of contract would usually be calculated as a reduction in the value of the chattel, in this case, the price paid for the puppy. Damages would not generally cover any costs that the buyer may have incurred in treating the puppy, for example vets’ bills
  • The consumer has a ‘duty to mitigate’ by rejecting any ‘goods’ that are considered unsatisfactory, even if this would mean returning goods to the seller. By doing so, the consumer would then be entitled to recover the price paid and possibly some damages. In this case, that would mean returning the puppy and getting a refund.

Everyone’s situation is different, but if the above facts sound familiar, please do contact us. We are able to consider your individual circumstances that may be similar and provide advice or guidance to assist you with any next steps you may take.

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