(NEW YORK) — Max has been a part of the Cittadino family for two years. The Long Island natives took the golden retriever on trips, played with him in the park and went for daily walks.
And then, the company that financed the purchase of the pup threatened to repossess him.
The family’s run-in with pet leasing — an option increasingly coming under government scrutiny — started innocently enough. Max’s owner, Danielle Cittadino, and her sons decided to take a look at the dogs at the local pet store Shake-A-Paw.
“To be honest with you, we really were not there to buy a dog, we were just going for a visit, take the boys, let’s go visit the dog store and Max, doing his playful thing, was up there, saying ‘Pet me, pet me, pet me,'” Cittadino told “Good Morning America.” “And that’s when they said, ‘Would like to go in a room with him?’ And I was like, ‘I know how that’s gonna end up.’ But we did and we fell in love right there.”
Cittadino says she couldn’t afford to buy the dog outright from the seller 23 months ago, so she signed up for a leasing plan with Wags Lending.
“It was offered to us, well you can finance, so my husband and I discussed it for a moment and said, ‘OK, if my credit is good, run it, and we’ll go from there,'” Cittadino said. “It happened to work out. We were approved. … I forget the total dollar amount, I believe it was maybe $2,500 and the first payment was paid there, on the spot, and then it would be consecutive 23 payments after that.”
“Did I know it was a lease before I signed it? Absolutely not,” she added. “I was told I was financing. There was no mention of a lease.”
But the document she signed, which she acknowledges she didn’t read closely enough at the time.
“There’s wording in the paperwork that you are financing ‘X’ amount of dollars, although the top of the paperwork does say, ‘This is important information about your lease’ — which to me financing versus a lease are two different animals, so to speak, no pun intended,” she said.
Cittadino says she paid the first 23 installments of $145.19 on time and without issue. But now she is balking after the lender asked for a final payment of $338.07. The final cost would be over $1,000 more than the in-store price.
Wags Lending did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
The Federal Trade Commission warned consumers against just such an issue last November.
“You sign an agreement to make payments toward ownership — or so you think,” the government agency wrote on its website. “You may unintentionally sign up to make costly, extended lease-to-own payments that add up to about twice the list price of the pet. As you’re paying over what could be years, the company still owns your pet. When the lease is up, you may have to pay additional costs to actually own it.”
Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, told “GMA” the state is moving to ban the practice of pet leasing. So far, California and Nevada are the only two states to do so, but it’s likely to happen soon in New York. The State Assembly and Senate have passed the bill, and it’s only awaiting a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Danielle Cittadino said she didnt realize what she was getting into when she signed a payment agreement for her dog, Max.
“People get caught up in this and they don’t realize what they are signing because of falling in love with the puppy, and so we just have to be cognizant of that. People need to recognize this and ask the questions,” Post said.
“We’re hoping that when this bill comes before Gov. Cuomo he signs it, because it’s a really important piece of legislation that will protect animals and protect consumers,” Post added.
In the meantime, Cittadino is off the hook for her final payment. Shake-A-Paw told ABC News that it will make the final payment so Max won’t have to go anywhere.
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