Pet leasing, a relatively recent trend that is panned by critics as deceptive to consumers, would be prohibited in New Jersey if a bill endorsed by an Assembly committee makes it into law.

Such leases aren’t offered everywhere, and stores that do suggest it as an alternative that costs less money up front. Some shoppers don’t realize the additional expenses they incur and that they don’t actually own their dog or cat for a few years.

“These pet leases are very, very problematic. It’s certainly a consumer-protection issue,” said Brian Hackett, the New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “These leases are deceptive. They’re confusing. The fine print is hard to find.”

California, Nevada and New York have enacted laws banning dog and cat leases.

“Perhaps the worst part of it all, an animal is treated like a car,” Hackett said. “If you don’t pay your car payment, they can repossess your car. Believe it or not, some of these leases you can repossess an animal as if it doesn’t have feelings, doesn’t have emotions. And it’s really just horrible for the animal and the consumer.”

Assemblyman Kevin Rooney, R-Bergen, said the bill is as much as protecting animals as consumers.

“This is an effort that you don’t acquire a dog or a cat for a period of time, a short period of time, and now it’s no longer the cute little puppy or the cute little kitten, and you have the option to give it back in two years,” Rooney said.

“This also goes a little bit further – not just the leasing of it but that it is a commitment,” he said. “It’s just like a child. It becomes part of your family, and we need to recognize that. So that’s also the intent of this bill.”

 

The bill was advanced unanimously on Thursday by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee.

The American Kennel Club supports the ban on predatory pet leasing schemes, said its lobbyist Michael Pock. But it does worry the current bill would interfere with what it calls “preservation breeding,” used responsibly to preserve specific bloodlines and breeds of dogs.

“In a limited context, leases are an important tool used by preservationists, purebred breeders and enthusiasts to collaborate in ensuring genetic diversity for future generations of purebred dogs,” Pock said.

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, said the AKC’s recommended change is likely to be added to the bill before it comes up for a full Assembly vote.