Peter and Faith Dykstra, trading as Sandown Alaskan Malamutes, were each found guilty on seven counts, and pleaded guilty to a further two counts, of engaging in misleading conduct in connection with the sale of goods, an offence under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
Mr Dykstra was fined $14,000 and ordered to pay $1,143.35 in compensation to a consumer affected by their offending. Mrs Dykstra was fined $7,000 for the same offences under parity principals.
The court heard that between October 2011 and December 2013, Mr and Mrs Dykstra sold Alaskan Malamute dogs to consumers, several of whom later complained to the OFT after the dogs developed symptoms of a genetic condition known as hip dysplasia.
The OFT investigation found Mr and Mrs Dykstra misled the consumers by claiming the condition was not genetic. They instead blamed the consumers for causing any ill health conditions by providing an incorrect diet.
In January 2014, Mr and Mrs Dykstra advertised in a local newspaper claiming their breeding program was ‘15 years free of genetic defects’, despite being informed of numerous instances of dogs purchased from them having hip dysplasia. The Malamute puppies were sold to consumers for between $800 and $1000.
The defendants did not test their breeding stock for genetic conditions.
Several scientific studies confirm hip dysplasia has a genetic component. Mr and Mrs Dykstra were provided this information in July 2011 by an Alaskan Malamute club in Victoria, several months prior to their first offence. Mr and Mrs Dykstra are not registered with any Alaskan Malamute breeders clubs.
In sentencing, the court considered Mr and Mrs Dykstra’s motive in justifying selling dogs with genetic defects as having a wilful disregard for scientific facts and lack of responsibility when making representations to the community.
The court also ordered Mr and Mrs Dykstra to issue a public apology and provide written notice to prospective buyers, at least 48 hours prior to sale, stating that their breeding stock was not screened for hip dysplasia.
Fair Trading Acting Executive Director Sharon Simmers said the outcome was a reminder that although most consumers don’t think of pets as goods, the law still provides protection.
“As well as the financial cost, there is often a significant emotional investment for a consumer buying a pet,” Ms Simmers said.