Puppy owner sues over pet leasing agreement

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Norwich — Christina Diskin fell in love with a part pug, part beagle puppy she found at The Dog House pet facility in Manchester last summer — so in love that she agreed to finance $1,340 for the animal and supplies.

Diskin, 20, of Norwich, claims in a lawsuit filed this month in New London Superior Court that she didn't learn until later that she was actually leasing Athena the puggle, and would end up paying a total of $3,789.

She paid far more than the fair market value of $300 to $600 for the mixed breed dog and an interest rate of more than 100 percent, according to her attorney, Scott D. Camassar.

Camassar said Diskin is the victim of an increasingly common practice of pet leasing, which is illegal in California, Nevada and New York, and was the subject of a bill passed by the Connecticut Senate last session but not acted on by the House. 

Diskin's civil lawsuit claiming violation of Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act names The Dog House Inc. of Manchester, My Pet Funding LLC of Sterling, Va., which originated the loan and Monterey Financial Services of Oceanside, Calif., which serviced the loan.

"It's completely unfair and deceptive on its face," Camassar said in a phone interview Monday. "They have her sign a paper document that calls her an owner and have her electronically sign a paper that says it's a lease and she's not an owner. Even if she had read (the online document) I don't think she would have understood it."

Diskin was living in Baltic and taking home about $400 a week when she went puppy shopping on July 14, 2018. She and Athena have since moved back to her parents' house in Norwich. The lease agreement from My Pet Funding provided for 23 monthly payments of $153.30 and a final payment of $213.76 "if you decide to purchase the product at the end of your lease."

Camassar said it's not just young people who are getting tricked into signing costly pet leases. He's also heard of cases involving older adults.

"It's unconscionable and unacceptable," said Camassar. "It's a harmful practice to the consumer, and it's potentially harmful to the animal if someone has to give up her dog. They have the right to repossess the dog under the lease."

The Dog House employee Katie Kelleher, speaking on behalf of the business, said by phone Monday that staff members tell customers how expensive it is to finance animals and walk them through the process when they apply online for financing. The Dog House sets the prices for animals by factoring the breeder sale price and transportation along with overhead expenses, such as vet bills, food, staffing and building rent, she said.

The Dog House collects a down payment from the customer — $80 in Diskin's case — and is paid the remainder of the sale price by the financing company, according to Kelleher. She said her company has nothing to do with collecting payments but that she has never heard of a dog being repossessed by the financing companies.

"We try to be very up front and honest with the customers," Kelleher said. "We try to tell them everything about what the contract is. I think she made a bad personal decision and is not taking responsibility for it and wants somebody else to fix it."

Kelleher said The Dog House, which she described as a small, family-owned business, is looking into other financing options for pet sales.

"We are a small business and needed some way for a customer to be able to purchase a puppy who couldn't pay for it in full up front, without the puppy needing to stay in the store for multiple weeks until they could pay it off," she said.

The sales manager asks every customer if they would like the documents printed in the store or emailed, and they're given the opportunity to read both sides on the computer in the store, she said.

Kelleher added that it's upsetting that the family-owned business has to spend "time, money and resources defending ourselves against ridiculous accusations such as this one."

Representatives of My Pet Funding and Monterey Financing could not be reached to comment.



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