In general, the law expects that people who routinely adopt out animals ensure that those animals are fit to be adopted and meet the adopter’s needs. This expectation is called the “implied warranty of merchantability”, and it comes from the Uniform Commercial Code (the “UCC”). It applies only to sales from merchants, which would include pet shelters and pet stores, and may include a breeder who regularly sells animals, but would not include a private seller who is rehoming their pet.
The warranty of merchantability includes a variety of guarantees the seller automatically makes to a buyer, and the context of the pet adoption determines which guarantees those are:
In general, if a pet buyer can show that their pet had a serious undisclosed illness or injury at the time of purchase, the UCC may provide them the ability to rescind the sale and seek a refund. Several states have also enacted laws about pet sales that more specifically outline what health conditions permit a refund, and how quickly the buyer must return the pet.
Certain breeds may have a price premium, and misrepresentations about the breed may entitle the buyer to a full or partial refund. This does not apply in all cases. For example, a dog presented as a mix at a shelter will not be unfit simply because the breeds the shelter estimated were inaccurate. However, an animal presented as a purebred while actually being a mix, or presented as a “teacup” version of a breed while actually being larger than the classification requires may be unfit if the buyer relied on the seller’s description. In same cases, they may only be entitled to the difference in price between the promised animal and what was received.
A pet sold for breeding purposes who turns out to be infertile, or a pet listed as spayed/neutered who turns out not to be may also be considered unfit. In the case of a breeding animal, if the adoption agreement is clear about the reasons for purchase, the buyer may be permitted to return the animal for a refund. A buyer promised a spayed or neutered pet may be entitled to the extra veterinary costs.
An animal purchased for a specific job, but who is unable to perform that job due to a health complication, may also be unfit under the UCC. The sales contract should clearly identify the job the animal is intended for.
Behavioral disorders may be a reason to seek to return a pet. There are few examples, and the difficulty is in proving both that the behavioral issue is severe enough to render the pet unfit for the purposes for which it was adopted, and also that the behavioral issues existed at the time of purchase. Demonstrating that the pet suffered from emotional trauma prior to adoption, such as from the conditions provided by the breeder, may help with this type of claim.
Ultimately, many sellers of pets would prefer that their animals go to homes where they will be cared for. Even if the UCC does not apply to your adoption, and even if you don’t necessarily have the right to return the animal, discussing your issues with the seller may lead to a resolution that is good for both you and the animal.