ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York is trying to make it easier to return a bum pet.
The Legislature has voted to strengthen the "pet lemon law," a consumer protection measure for pet owners who find out too late that their yellow lab was a lemon, or there was a glitch in their kitten. It requires pet sellers to pay for veterinary treatment, reimburse the buyer for the purchase cost, or provide a replacement if a pet was sold with a serious illness or defect. Under the measure overwhelmingly passed last week, pet owners would get six months to detect problems, rather than the current 14 days.
Twenty states have animal lemon laws. Fourteen allow more than a 14-day period, while most large states require at least six months' time to discover health problems.
The bill also doubles fines to $100 for pet stores that fail to abide by the pet lemon law that is aimed putting a bite into unscrupulous puppy mills.
"There's no question, that's the angle I'm pushing," said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Westchester Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill. "We're trying to discourage pet shops from buying from disreputable breeders."
The measure also aims to help vulnerable pet buyers like Heather Nyein of Syosset.
In January, she bought her dog, Kiku, from a nearby Hicksville pet store which followed the pet lemon law. Kiku, named for the Japanese word for Chrysanthemum, was healthy and perky in the store. But days later, the Shiba Inu developed kennel cough, a common yet potentially serious health problem that can lead to pneumonia and death.
"I didn't know she had it," Nyein said Thursday. "She got the cough after. But the pet store gave us a free veterinary visit. Within two weeks they diagnosed her."
The store reimbursed Nyein for the $70 vet visit, $40 for medication and $40 for the follow-up appointment, saving Nyein from straining a tight budget, and potentially saving Kiku.
But many serious illnesses and deformities take months to be detected. A pet that is returned could get treatment, but could also be destroyed. The Northeast Regional Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says it has witnessed returned animals that are again put up for sale.
"Too many times, New York consumers welcome a pet into their home as a part of their family only to realize that the animal has a serious or fatal medical condition," said Sen. John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican and co-sponsor of the bill. "This legislation is aimed at helping provide these families with some reassurance that their new family member is healthy and, if that is not the case, provide them with an ability to recover their costs.
"While this legislation cannot help protect families from the sadness they will feel if an animal becomes ill, it will provide them with some needed financial protection when dealing with pet shops," Flanagan said.
In New Jersey, one activist said too few pet owners know about that state's pet lemon law and enforcement has been spotty as governments have had to cut back during hard fiscal times. Another drawback is, as in New York, collecting. If a pet company refuses to reimburse a pet owner, the pet owner must go to a judge.
"I believe it gives false hope to buyers," said Libby Williams, from Pet Watch New Jersey.
Legislation to protect pets or pet owners is always popular in politics. The New York Legislature has just completed one of its biggest pet agendas in years.
One of the bills would allow local governments to crack down on unscrupulous pet dealers and breeders.
"They are better suited to know where these operations are, when they are operating under the state radar," said Bill Ketzer, senior legislative director for the Northeast Regional American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Other measures, like the pet lemon law, take direct aim at trying to shut down puppy mills, while helping reputable breeders and pet stores thrive.