Adopting a dog from a shelter is an honorable thing to do, but maybe your is heart set on a briard or a boxer and no rescues are available, so you buy a so-called purebred from a breeder. If someone pulls the bait-and-switch, you can take legal action.
What's a Purebred?
It may seem a simple question, but some people really don't know what a purebred dog is. You might hear claims like, "He's a purebred goldendoodle," but there's actually no such thing as a purebred goldendoodle, since such a breed is a mix of poodle and golden retriever. You may also have heard the word "thoroughbred" used to indicate a clean blood line -- the speaker means purebred; a thoroughbred is a breed of horse. A purebred is the product of a purebred sire and dam of the same breed, as recognized by the American Kennel Club if not by another reputable breed-grading dog club. There are other kennel clubs, but the AKC is the leading registry of purebred dogs. So, how do you know a purebred from a non-purebred? If you can show the dog in an AKC-sanctioned conformation dog show, it's a purebred. If the dog is disqualified for sterilization, but is otherwise conformable in the AKC ring, it's a purebred. A goldendoodle is a popular breed of dog, but it's not a purebred.
Where'd You Get Him?
As far as lawsuits go, anyone can sue anyone for anything. So the question is not so much, "Can you sue someone for selling you a non-purebred dog" but rather is, "what's the likelihood I will prevail if I learn someone has sold me a non-purebred dog?" The answer, like everything else in the law, depends upon a few factors. For example, if you purchase a puppy at pet store that represents the dog as a purebred but later you learn the dog is actually a mixed-breed, you likely have a strong case. If you purchase a puppy from a purebred breeder and later learn the dog is not a purebred, you also have a good case. It all comes down to the contract. If the contract clearly states the dog is a purebred, and you find out later the dog is a mixed-breed, you will likely prevail in a lawsuit. If you purchase a puppy from someone standing outside the grocery store, or who has a cardboard sign up in the window proclaiming "purebred bulldogs for sale," most likely you won't get any kind of a contract at all. Without a contract, you can't sue. The actual suit is for breach of contract, not buying a non-purebred puppy, so the contract is critical.
A Deeper Look
Virtually all puppies sold at pet stores come from large-scale commercial breeding operations, otherwise known as "puppy mills." Puppies from these breeders may look like purebreds, but there have been many cases of buyers learning later on -- once they've become attached to the dog -- that the dog is not a purebred. The two kinds of purebreds are show-quality and pet-quality. Show-quality dogs can be shown at AKC dog shows, they have papers proving their parents and grandparents were show dogs, and they are found only through breeders. Pet-quality dogs cannot be shown because they have a flaw of some kind. For example, the AKC description for the Akita clearly states the dog should have a curly tail. If the dog does not have a curly tail, the dog doesn't lose its status as an Akita, but the non-curling tail disqualifies the dog from the conformation ring. Pet stores have pet-quality puppies. So do the so-called "backyard breeders," those who breed a pet-quality dog in order to make some money. A puppy you are considering may look a little "off" to you; it could be that it's a pet-quality dog whose markings don't match those of the show dogs you've seen, or it could be it's a mixed-breed dog.
When selecting a dog, don't base your decision purely on the dog's appearance. Research the breed and find out what the breed temperament should be. Know important factors such as acceptable height, weight, colors and coat types. Always check your purchase contract carefully no matter where it comes from and be sure it states the dog is a purebred. If you find out later the dog is actually a mixed-breed -- which really can be determined only by a DNA test -- not only do you have the right to sue, but you have the duty to sue to protect others from unscrupulous pet dealers. The best way to avoid a problem later on is to only purchase a puppy from a reputable breeder who has at least one of the parents on the premises and can show you an actual pedigree of the puppy's lineage.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.