Pet store expands amid concerns about 'rent-a-pet' philosophy

PORTLAND, Ore. - A controversial pet store isn't going away like some animal advocates would like; in fact, the Hannah Pet Society is doing the opposite.

It announced Tuesday it has expanded its services in Portland.

The announcement comes even as some customers have complained to the state. In the past month and a half, customers filed five complaints with the Oregon Department of Justice for deceiving them. The state says those issues have all been resolved.

Despite months of criticism from pet advocates about its "rent-a-pet" philosophy, Hannah is moving forward.

Eighteen months ago Renae Debauw sold her dog Lucy and her two rescue dogs to the Hannah Pet Society. While Debauw cares for the dogs, she's not their legal owner.

She pays about $300 a month. That payment works like a car lease. It covers things like unlimited vet care and food.

"The most important thing for the long-term health of the pet is the food," said veterinarian Scott Campbell who founded the for-profit service a couple of years ago. "And what we want the pet to do is be very, very healthy for a very long life, because that's how we win."

Campbell says about half of his customers are like Debauw and enroll their pets in the program. The other half are paired up at a store in a Portland mall. He says his service matches between 100 and 200 per week.

But questions about dogs coming from puppy mills have riled several animal welfare groups.

On Tuesday, as Campbell announced the openings of two more facilities in the west Portland area, he addressed the critics.

"All pets are either from a nonprofit organization or from a family," he said.

The society's website says it works with many animal shelters, humane societies and nonprofit groups to place animals.

"They've opened the doors for us to be able to bring more animals into our shelter," said Lisa Beggio of the Columbia Humane Society during Campbell's announcement Tuesday.

The Columbia Humane Society may be alone in its partnership with Hannah. It's not possible to tell because the society's website says it can't give a full list of partners because of privacy.

Campbell admits it has never worked with the Oregon Humane Society. He denies any issue.

"I don't think Sharon has any problem with Hannah," he said.

He's talking about OHS executive director Sharon Harmon who said in a statement to KATU News: "We are concerned about the source of animals when not coming from shelters. Hannah Society has not shared with us any criteria that would preclude the lease of puppy mill source dogs. In addition, their name is confusing - this is a for profit company, not a non-profit nor an animal shelter."

Debauw has formed her own opinion.

"It's peace of mind," she said, even if it costs her more than $3,000 per year to rent her pets.

Animal welfare advocates said they still have concerns about Hannah. No one wanted to go on camera Tuesday, but they pointed a reporter to a website called Hannah Society Exposed that lays out their concerns with the society's business practices and ethics.

Recently, KATU's news partners at Willamette Week did a story on Hannah Society. At the time they reported that it got an "F" from the Better Business Bureau with some people complaining about misquoting costs and having a hard time getting money back.

According to the BBB's website on Tuesday, the rating has been changed to a "B." Of the 10 complaints against Hannah, all had been resolved.