By Benson Ang
SHE decided to get a pet to share a common interest with her teenage son despite her fear of dogs.
When she saw a three-month-old Japanese spitz at Ericsson Pet Farm, she was instantly smitten.
But her joy was short-lived. The cuddly puppy, which she named Sparky, died eight days later.
Wealth manager Pheabe Chau, in her 40s, was in grief. But through resourcefulness and determination, she made a case against the pet farm, took it to court and won.
Together with the cost of the puppy, dog food and other items, she had paid almost $4,000 on 12 Aug last year. The Small Claims Tribunal awarded her the cost of the puppy, which was $2,500.
She was certain she did not cause Sparky's death and wanted a refund. But the pet farm refused, citing the sales agreement that states the farm cannot be held responsible once the animal is outside its premises.
But Ms Chau would not take no for an answer. Representing herself, she went to the tribunal to get her money back.
She asked for an autopsy from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and discovered that Sparky had died of parvovirus, a type of virus that can be fatal to animals.
She said she spent about a month - an hour every week night and at least 12 hours a day on weekends - doing research online.
She looked through the websites of several medical centres and medical associations, and discovered that:
- parvovirus has an incubation period of seven to 14 days before symptoms show;
- parvovirus is spread through direct contact with contaminated dog faeces and;
- puppies do not always respond to vaccinations for parvovirus.
Ms Chau applied her presentation skills as an investment adviser and compiled a comprehensive 41-page document to prove her case in court.
Her document included highlighted excerpts from websites about parvovirus, a timeline proving that Sparky could not have been infected while in her or the vet's care, and a point-by-point rebuttal of every single argument by the pet farm, represented by its director, Mr Eric Lim, 50. (See report on facing page)
Ms Chau even took photographs of the dogs at Ericsson Pet Farm, including one showing two dogs licking dog faeces in a corner.
Eventually, she won the case, spending only $10 on legal fees in the process.
She told The New Paper: 'I'm a very rational person. I thought that by doing everything I needed to do, I would be able to keep my pet well and happy.
'Some things are just out of my control, I guess.'
Why did she go through all that trouble?
Ms Chau said: 'I wanted the dog farm to know about my case so it can do something to prevent similar deaths in the future.
'Sparky suffered a lot in those last few days. It would just look at me, looking miserable.'
She said she would dream about Sparky suffering and wake up in tears.
Winning the case helped provide some closure.
She said: 'I think there are two ways to deal with pain - run away or face it. I chose to face it. It's the only way I can move on. It was no longer a matter of whether I got the money back or not.
Complaints about the pet industry have been on the rise over the years.
Last year, the Consumer Association of Singapore received 83 such complaints. In 2005, it saw only 30 cases.
Last month alone, at least three complaints against unscrupulous pet farms have surfaced on Internet pet forums, The Straits Times reported. All cases involved improperly vaccinated puppies which were sold and died soon afterwards.
Ms Chau doesn't have any pets now because she fears the parvovirus is still active in her home.
A vet, who did not want to be named, said this was possible. He advised that such places be disinfected several times and that no pets be reintroduced for three to six months.
After buying Sparky, Ms Chau took four days leave to spend time with it at home. She even referred to Sparky as 'my son' and 'my baby'.
She said: 'In eight days, I went from fearing Sparky to loving it to grieving over it. It was an emotional roller coaster.'
Dog vomits blood
MS CHAU bought Sparky on 12 Aug last year.
On 16 Aug, she sent Sparky for a vaccination at PAW Veterinary Centre.
The next day, Sparky had diarrhoea.
Soon, it started vomiting blood, passed bloody stools and had difficulty breathing.
Several times, Ms Chau had to use her finger to remove the phlegm that was choking it.
On 19 Aug, Ms Chau took Sparky again to the vet for clinical care, but two days later, the vet staff found Sparky dead in the centre.
According to Ms Chau, when Ericsson Pet Farm director Eric Lim argued that she had no case because she signed a sales agreement on the date of purchase.
The agreement states that the farm cannot be held responsible for the pet outside the pet farm's premises.
According to Ms Chau, Mr Lim also argued that Sparky was infected when it was with her or the vet.
When The New Paper called Mr Lim to verify or refute these claims, Mr Lim declined comment.
Using her own research, Ms Chau argued that Sparky was must have contracted the fatal parvovirus from the pet farm.
Through this research, Ms Chau also discovered that under Singapore contract law, buyers can terminate a contract if faulty goods have been misrepresented to them as goods in working condition.
She therefore argued that Mr Lim's sales agreement was void because it was misrepresented to her as an application for pet insurance.
She also felt taken advantage of since she was asked to sign the agreement while she was holding the dog in her arms for the first time and was not wearing her glasses.
On 15 Dec last year, referee Tham Yeong Shin made Mr Lim pay Ms Chau about $2,500, the amount she paid for Sparky.
She did not incur any legal costs because in the Small Claims Tribunal, neither claimants nor respondents can be represented by counsel.
When buying a pet...
- Consider whether your family has the time to care for a pet.
- Find out more about the pets you are planning to buy to avoid being overcharged.
- Take note of proper pet-health maintenance including immunisation, flea and tick control, de-worming, diet and activity. This is especially so when adopting stray animals.
- Look out for proper import permits accompanied by health certificates, as required by the AVA.
- Check that clear records have been made over any claims for cash refunds or refunds in kind.
- Ask for receipt or proof of transactions.
- Verify the medical history of the pet before buying. Ask for the relevant medical certifications. Look out for symptoms of disease.
- If the pet is found to be sick after buying, seek professional help from the vet and get medical certification to file your claim with the pet shop.
- For more information about the regulations relating to pets, go to the AVA's website at www.ava.gov.sg
When owning a pet...
- During dog walks, avoid grassy areas frequented by other dogs so that your pet does not pick up ticks.
- Don't allow your dog to ingest foreign objects which are found in public places.
» We'll survive, say pet shop operators
» Pets face tough times too
» Cheaper pet for bad times: Hamster
This article was first published in The New Paper on Feb 11, 2009.