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September 11th, 2013 ANDREA DAMEWOOD | News Stories
 

One Sick Puppy

Questions about veterinary care dog a pet-leasing company.

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Hannah the Pet Society, a controversial and growing company that leases pets, is exploiting a loophole in a state law intended for chicken farmers and cattle ranchers—that owners can medically treat their own animals, as long as it’s done humanely.

“It wasn’t ever intended for pet animals,” says Lori Makinen, executive director of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Examining Board, “and it never contemplated an organization owning pets, not agricultural animals.”

Makinen characterizes her ability to monitor Hannah the Pet Society as nonexistent.

The company was investigated earlier this year by the Washington State Department of Health. And Portland’s DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital also severed its ties this year to provide emergency services for Hannah pets.

Hannah the Pet Society promises a new model for bringing a pet into your home: “Pet parents,” as the company calls its clients, pay a flat monthly fee for a pet, its food, training and all veterinary care. 

Unlike a shelter that offers pets for adoption or a breeder who sells animals, the business, founded by Dr. Scott Campbell, retains ownership of its pets, and pet parents sign a contract to lease the animals (“Rent a Pup,” WW, Nov. 12, 2012). Clients may even sign over pets they already own to get on the monthly plan.

DoveLewis CEO Ron Morgan says his nonprofit had “philosophical differences” with the company. Hannah representatives “haggled” by phone with clinic staff about any care that raised the price above DoveLewis’ $400 average emergency bill. Meanwhile, anxious pet parents in the lobby had no say in their pets’ care. 

“Their business model is their decision and their concern,” Morgan says. “We just decided it was not something that worked for us in terms of our business. I just hope those pets are getting appropriate treatment wherever they are going.”

A former Hannah veterinarian who asked not to be named, fearing retaliation, tells WW that animals weren’t getting proper care in the company’s clinics. One elderly dog, for example, needed an ultrasound to diagnose a problem, the vet says, but Hannah didn’t have the machine.

“They don’t give good medical care to the pets,” the veterinarian says. “The whole point is so they can make a profit.”

Other complaints have dogged the business: Local rescue organizations have said Hannah too closely mirrors the look and feel of a nonprofit, which it is not. Fourteen complaints against Hannah have been filed with the Better Business Bureau, where the company has a grade of B-, since it opened in 2010.

Campbell, the multimillionaire veterinarian who grew a single Banfield Pet Hospital into the largest chain of animal clinics in the world before selling it, did not return requests for comment. But he explained his business model to WW in October 2012.

Hannah wants pets to live for as long as possible, he said, because the company loses money during the first year of a pet’s life, due to immunization, neuter and spay surgeries, training and other initial costs. Taking the same flat monthly fee for a healthy, 5-year-old cat or dog is what turns a profit, Campbell said.

“We’re going to tell the client, the pet parent, exactly what the doctor thinks is best for the pet,” Campbell said.

But Charlie Stirling and Kay MacDierney say Hannah wasn’t looking out for Maiki, the 11-pound mixed-breed puppy the couple rented in 2011.

Stirling and MacDierney adopted Maiki from Hannah the Pet Society’s Clackamas Town Center storefront. But Stirling says Maiki came to her at 12 weeks old with a serious case of kennel cough. Not long after, she developed severe diarrhea. 

When Maiki stopped eating and her diarrhea worsened one weekend, Stirling says her multiple calls to a 24-hour help line were never answered or returned. 

The dog got better. But Stirling says when she forked over $600 to break Maiki’s lease and purchase her outright, Hannah refused to release any medical records to a new veterinarian, saying the information was proprietary. Stirling’s veterinarian filed a complaint with Washington state, which dropped its investigation after Hannah turned over what Stirling called “bare-bones” records that gave no answers about the level of care Maiki had received.

“End of story,” Stirling says, “we’d never do it again.” 

 
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