Puppy farmers put on notice after tribunal decision

Dodgy dog breeders have been put on notice after a Victorian couple successfully took legal action against the Gumtree sellers who sold them a flea and worm-infested puppy.

Ava and Ryan Bird took the breeder of their dog Nala to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal this week through a joint case brought by the Animal Law Institute (ALI) and Maurice Blackburn.

The couple had purchased the dog from what appeared to be a registered breeder on Gumtree in 2016, believing Nala to be a purebred, dewormed and deflead beagle.

But less than a week after taking her home, a trip to the vet revealed Nala had a severe worm infestation - most likely contracted from her mother while in utero. It also became clear Nala was not a purebred beagle, but rather a cross-breed of lesser value.

Although treated immediately by a vet, Nala continued to suffer ongoing health issues as a result of the worm infestation. Mr and Mrs Bird have already incurred thousands of dollars in veterinary fees, and will incur thousands more to manage Nala’s ongoing health condition.

On Tuesday, VCAT member Bryan Thomas ruled in favour of the Birds and awarded them $15,521.96 damages in veterinary fees. The respondent did not contest the hearing.

The claim relied mostly on the consumer guarantees in the Australian Consumer Law, which considers animals a ‘good’ that must be of ‘acceptable quality’ when sold to a consumer.

“We argued that if a pet has an undisclosed health condition at the time of sale, it is not of acceptable quality, and both the seller and the breeder are liable to pay for the veterinary fees that the unwitting owners incur,” ALI lawyer Amanda Richmond said.

“Not only was the seller liable for the immediate treatment of the worm infestation, she was ordered to pay the ongoing costs of managing Nala’s health condition for the rest of Nala’s life.”

It is hoped the decision will be relied upon as one of the first to clarify the extent to which breeders are liable for ongoing vet costs.

“Puppy farmers have been put on notice - consumers do have legal avenues they can take against negligent breeding practices,” said Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jordan Mathas-Carleton, who assisted with the matter.

“We hope this decision will act as a strong deterrent and show dishonest breeders they won’t be allowed to get away with it.”

Maurice Blackburn assisted the Animal law Institute with Nala’s case on a pro-bono basis

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Kirsten Robb

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Kirsten is our Victorian Media Advisor, based in our Melbourne office.

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