All Colleen Shelly wanted was a companion for her 2-year-old boxer. What she got was a seriously ill puppy and a harsh lesson on the pitfalls of buying a dog on impulse.

She also learned that Pennsylvania's Puppy Lemon Law doesn't cover all the costs incurred for a sick dog, let alone the emotional toll it takes on the buyer.

Shelly and her husband last summer went to Wentz Canine, a dog retailer in Fogelsville, to look at the dogs. Had they examined Wentz's inspection record, they would have been impressed. The store has a spotless state inspection record since 2003, an impressive feat considering that it sells about 1,000 dogs a year.

Like many dog buyers, however, the Shellys didn't do any homework about how to pick the perfect pet. They quickly fell for a 4-month-old boxer that they named Milton and bought him for $371.

"We thought he was mellow for a puppy," Shelly said. "He was playful. Because we didn't know him, we didn't know what was wrong with him."

Less than 24 hours later, Milton's breathing became labored and he struggled to stand.

Shocked, the Shellys took him to Valley Central Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Whitehall Township, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

"They don't get pneumonia overnight. I am not a vet, but I know that," Shelly said.

Several weeks and $1,457 in veterinary bills later, the Shellys sought to recover their losses. That's when they learned another fact of life when buying a dog in Pennsylvania: Let the buyer beware.

Under the Puppy Lemon Law, the Shellys faced two unsatisfactory options: Return Milton -- an unthinkable prospect -- or be reimbursed for vet bills, only up to Milton's purchase price. That left the Shellys stuck with close to $1,100 in unreimbursed costs just for the first few weeks of ownership.

After years of lobbying, supporters in 1997 pushed through the lemon law, which was designed to provide some recourse to buyers of sick or diseased dogs. The law allows buyers to return ill dogs for a refund, an exchange or recovery of veterinary expenses up to the purchase price of the dog.

"I was disheartened" to have such limited options, said Shelly, who lives on a farm with other animals. "I'm kind of emotionally attached to my horses -- but they don't sleep in my bed at night."

Store owner Thomas Wentz said Milton hadn't shown any symptoms of illness, so it is unknown how he became sick. "Pretty much everything … that could go wrong did," he said.

Wentz said Milton's was a rare case, and that, short of paying Milton's vet bills, he would be unable to make the Shellys happy. When a customer reports their dog exhibits congenital problems, he may be able to get reimbursement from the breeder who sold him the pup. "There's not a lot of motivation to sell sick dogs in this business," said Wentz, who advertises that he's been selling dogs for 18 years.

Pet sellers sometimes exceed requirements to help buyers of sick dogs. Jack's Dog Farm in Pipersville reimbursed Jean Kennedy-Krupa of East Allen Township the purchase price of her Jack Russell terrier, Zoey, plus some expenses, after Zoey got pneumonia. The extreme symptoms appeared the day after the family made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy Zoey.

But the reimbursement came up more than $1,000 short of what the family paid to save Zoey, Kennedy-Krupa said. "We pretty much had to baby her for three months," she said.

Jack's co-owner Jeremy Belli said in this case, the store exceeded the store's warranty as well as the state requirements. "We do stand behind what we sell," he said.

Like the Shellys, Kennedy-Krupa said her family's mistake was in letting their emotions overrun their judgment and not taking time to research the dog and seller before buying.

"What upset me was I should have known better," she said.