Reprinted in its entirety from the ASPCA blog on May 4th, 2017

You’ve heard of predatory lending, but probably never imagined that this unethical financial practice could apply to man’s best friend. You can lease a car, or rent furniture—why not other high-ticket items, like puppies?

Pet stores and websites that sell puppies—most of whom come from puppy mills—get a big payday with each dog sold, but it’s a race against time because this kind of “product” needs to be sold quickly, before getting too big or too old.

A puppy’s cuteness is the seller’s best tool. Once a customer is holding an adorable puppy, the store’s staff just needs to convince them that the puppy, despite everything they may have heard about puppy mills, is perfectly healthy and came from a small, responsible breeder whom they know personally.

Next comes the money conversation. Pet sellers want to take the sting out of the high sticker price that might make the buyer think twice. That’s when they reveal the good news: Financing is available! Suddenly, a puppy priced at thousands of dollars can be yours for only $50 a month. Who could refuse?

Pet sellers team up with private lending companies that offer the customer a low monthly payment over a fixed period of time, padding the purchase price with large fees and interest. These agreements allow a love-struck patron to walk out of the store with a puppy, but end up costing the unwitting buyer many times the animal’s original price.

But that’s not the worst of it. Many of these financing arrangements are not just high-interest payment plans. They are actually leases, meaning the new family does not legally own the dog. Technically, the leasing company owns the dog for the entire length of the lease, which might last several years. At the end of the lease term, the customer can own the dog outright … for an additional payment, of course.

This raises serious ethical questions about how dogs are viewed by society. Are they merely products, meant to meet a short-term need and then be returned? These arrangements also create more immediate problems. For instance, what happens to a cherished family pet if a customer defaults on his payments? What’s the fate of a puppy who gets repossessed by a lender? What if a major medical or other care decision needs to be made? What if, as in a case recently, a leased dog is surrendered to a shelter?

We’ve long warned consumers to be skeptical of pet stores and online sellerswho may try to deceive you about the sources and health of the dogs they sell. This is just one more example of the disregard many pet stores have for the wellbeing of their animals. Deceptive, predatory financing arrangements benefit only the lending company and the pet store—not the consumer, and certainly not the puppy.

If you have purchased or leased a puppy from a pet store, we want to hear about your experience: Please fill out this online form to Share Your Puppy Mill Story.