Dogs and Contracts

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BahariA few years ago I had the good fortune of getting to know Dr. Marty Greer when she was a student in the Law School’s part-time program. Dr. Greer is a veterinarian and lawyer in Lomira, Wisconsin. While in law school, Dr. Greer brought a service dog in training to class with her. The dog, Bahari, even attended her Law School graduation. (See photo)

Over the years, Dr. Greer and I have chatted about the intersection of contract law and dog ownership. When entering into a relationship with a purebred dog, it’s important for a potential owner to realize that he or she is entering into a legal contract with the dog’s breeder.

A contract for the sale of an animal can be complicated. Positive communication and decision making early in the negotiation process are important for establishing a good relationship between a breeder and a potential owner. A contract for an animal creates a three-way relationship for the animal, the new owner(s), and the breeder(s). People’s emotions, as well as the dog’s well-being, are at stake. When done right, lifelong friendships can result. While this blog is not intended to provide legal advice, my questions and Dr. Greer’s answers are designed to give a reader a sense of the things the parties need to consider when contemplating the purchase of a dog.

You are a practicing veterinarian, a lawyer, and a breeder of Pembroke Welsh Corgis. What is unique about contracts for the purchase of a purebred dog?

Dr. Greer: First, there is the aspect of a live creature, albeit a piece of property under the law in all states at this time. Then there is the aspect of the live creature being a purebred dog. Unlike other property, what is best for the dog or other animal has to be an important consideration in the terms of the contract. Other property does not have preferences and feelings. If an owner is no longer able to care for and keep the dog, provisions should be made in advance. The egos and preferences of the humans involved should be tempered with what is in the best interests of the animals. Many breeders/sellers have a clause in their contracts that provide the animal should be returned to the breeder or that the breeder should be involved in rehoming the animal if the buyer is unable to provide for the animal. In the past, breeders have been embarrassed when dogs they produced ended up in “Rescue”.

“Rescue” is a term that has several meanings as pertaining to dogs.

1. The actual “rescue” of a dog from an imminently dangerous situation – such as a fire or hurricane.

2. “Search and rescue” where dogs are used to find lost people, children, and other animals after kidnapping, natural disasters, and so on.

3. Perceived “rescue” of a dog or other animals from situations that may appear to be less than ideal living conditions or care. In my experience, this is not always an animal that was in an unsuitable situation. After more information is gained, it often turns out that many of these animals were doing well and did not need to be “rescued”. We have many clients who were told their animal was “abused” with no real evidence that an accusation was founded. “Rescue” therefore is a buzz word used by many organizations to better market animals whom they want to rehome.

As you can see, this emotional use of the word “rescue” triggers a hot button with breeders who are condemned by others for having a dog end up in “rescue”. For this reason, breeders feel compelled to be included in the rehoming efforts when a dog was sold to a home that turns out not to be a “forever home”.

In the world of dogs, both purebred and mixed breeds, breeders/sellers also are interested in controlling the reproductive future of the animals. Purebred dogs and other purebred animals historically have been the group of animals sellers wish to control. Some breeders do it for their egos, but most do it because they feel they are committed stewards of their breed and want to have only the superior specimens included in the future genetics of the breed. Most have the best interest of the animal at heart. However, a few are frankly control freaks. There is no reason to believe that other responsible stewards can’t be included in the fold of protecting the future of the breed.

Other sellers want to control other aspects of the animal’s care – sometimes again to control the animal’s environment and sometimes because they want to use their past experience to protect the new owner and animal from untoward problems. For instance, if a dog is predisposed to a known allergy, communicating a way to avoid the allergen is in everyone’s best interests.

Health guarantees are also unique to animal sales. A warranty inherently is different on an animal than it is on a non-living piece of property. A breeder may include a health guarantee, or the law may include a warranty of fitness for a particular purpose if the contract between the buyer and seller are silent. When the contract includes a health guarantee, the contract should specify boundaries on how much and when money should be spent for the care of the animal. The stakes are higher than when a used car is sold with a warranty, and a decision must be made on how much to spend on repairs. Having the terms specified in advance will save money and prevent conflict between the parties.

What are some considerations that owners and breeders should keep in mind when entering into a contract for the sale of a dog?

Dr. Greer: 1. Any transfer of a dog is a “sale” under most state laws. This has implications under the Wisconsin Dog Sellers Act as only 25 dogs can be sold each year by a breeder or rescue organization without being licensed by the State of Wisconsin.

2. The offer and acceptance should be clearly spelled out.

3. The contract should be in writing.

4. The contract should be designed to protect the seller, the buyer, and the puppy.

5. The terms of the relationship and contract should be carefully thought out before the puppy sale takes place. This is the best opportunity to work out the kinks, not after the puppy is in a new home with some difficulty.

6. The terms should include the purpose the dog is expected to fulfill – pet, show, agility, field trials, hunting, and so on. Terms may address these questions:

Whether the dog should or should not be bred, who is financially responsible for what, what is best for the puppy, who registers the dog with the AKC or other dog registry, what the puppy should be named, if there is a kennel name to be included, if the puppy is microchipped, and with whom the microchip is registered.

The sale price, the payment method, and when the transfer will take place.

Who the actual owners are to be – for instance, a married couple, or co-owners in the same or different households. Who is financially responsible for the care, who makes medical decisions, and what happens to the puppy if the buyer/owner can no longer keep the dog.

Medical decisions such as the age to spay or neuter, what vaccines are or are not appropriate, the food to be fed, and if there is to be pet insurance.

If there is a health problem, if there is a health guarantee, and if there is such a guarantee, how long is the dog covered, how much would be refunded or spent on the care of the dog, and if there is a promise of a replacement dog.

If the buyer or seller don’t follow the terms, what is the penalty? How and where are those to be enforced? Who pays attorney fees?

If there is a co-ownership and the dog causes personal or property damage, who is financially responsible?

And of course, any changes need to be in writing. Signatures need to be included.

What should people consider when contemplating co-ownership of an animal? What legal rights do co-owners have to a dog?

Dr. Greer: There are benefits and risks to co-ownerships.

First, AKC or other animal registries are merely registries, not indicators of ownership. Ownerships are dictated by contracts, so these should be specified in the contract. Only contractual co-ownerships provide for legal rights of the owners.

Advantages to co-ownerships include a backup plan if something happens to one owner that precludes them from having possession of the pet during the pet’s entire lifetime. This allows for a smooth transition for the pet and people involved. In some co-ownerships, co-owners may split expenses if the dog is competing and the cost of travel and competition are a burden for one party to bear.

On the other hand, if a divorce or other reason occurs for a co-ownership to dissolve, having multiple owners can be more complicated. These battles can become messy, like child custody cases.

Additionally, a co-owner may be held liable for acts of the animal that create person or property injury, so even the non-possessing owner may be financially responsible for such acts.

The breeding of dogs can become a complicated matter as well. What are some pitfalls to avoid in dealing with multiple parties? What rights do people have to the resulting puppies?

Dr. Greer: Multiple parties make the whole process very complicated. The rights depend upon the terms written into the contract. As above, it is best to discuss all the possible scenarios and write provisions to cover those scenarios. It is best to use an attorney to write the contract – not just to find a sample contract online. And it’s best to have the contract written by someone with contract and animal knowledge as there are many circumstances and a great deal of language unique to animals that could become a hang up for those not regularly involved with animals. Just like any other contract, ambiguity and poor drafting can lead to legal battles. No one wants to find themselves putting the puppy in the middle of a battle.

Dr. Greer practices veterinary medicine in Lomira, Wisconsin. She graduated from Marquette Law School in 2010 and practices law part time. She has leadership positions in numerous state and national veterinary boards and oversight organizations, including the Wisconsin Veterinary Examining Board and National Animal Interest Alliance. She raises and shows Pembroke Welsh Corgis.


38 thoughts on “Dogs and Contracts”

  1. What happens if in the contract it makes it sound like if you’re “irresponsible” or let the dog get hit by a car etc… (which we would never ever do) they could “reclaim” the dog at any time? How do you fight this verbiage. Our baby is about 16 weeks old and she’s already texting me and micromanaging if our baby’s had her vaccinations and started her professional training (stated in the contract) etc… my husband is a Vet Tech and been in the industry for 18 years so we’re very experienced and our animals are like our children, they are our family. I want to protect myself from this lady…Once we finish her Vaccination schedule, spay her, and do this training class (which my husband is a trainer as well but it states specific classes) she wants her to be a service dog, but that is NOT specified in the contract. She keeps telling me she is excited to see what our dog does (service wise) but this was never specific when we purchased her.

  2. Holly Archer, it’s a bit late to consider this now, but, entering into a contract with a breeder/seller/shelter/rescue that grants them what amounts to continued power of ownership control such as you mention, to ‘re-possess’ the animal especially under such vague conditions as their determination of you being “irresponsible” and/or that otherwise grants them control over what would usually be considered as rights of an owner, dictate what you can and cannot do with the animal, is a terribly bad idea. Realize what you are agreeing to is actually that they have the ‘right’ to come take the animals back, whenever and for whatever reason the want to cite, usually without even any compensation to you. Also potentially problematic is such conditions as that the only way you can dispose of the animals is by return to the breeder/seller, does not allow you to place or sell the animal into another home, and even worse, do so with no recompense to you. Consider if you, the buyer, have put a lot of work and money into an animal for training, perhaps showing, that has greatly enhanced its real value. Or consider where an animal has become much loved by other family members, that would, for example, choose to keep it and provide it a good home in case of your death or disability to care for it any longer. The best way to “fight this kind of language” is to not enter such an agreement to begin with. Any every condition or clause in a contract should be considered from a “worst case what if” before agreeing to it. Never accept something that fails the “worst case what if” test on merely the sellers’ assurance “well of course we’d never do that.” View a contract from the perspective of, am I purchasing this animal, or merely being allowed to borrow it for as long as that person chooses to let me do so.

    1. My husband purchased me a mixed dog from a lady who verbally told my husband we had to have the dog fixed. Now a year later we have not had him fixed and she is threatening to just come pick him up. Does she have any rights to a mixed-breed dog that we purchased from her without a written contact? We love and spoil this fur baby but her threats are heart-wrenching.

  3. What if you were donated this puppy and never even signed a piece of paper one or contract, but one was “understood.” Had the pup since it was 5 weeks old & and it now 22 weeks old and there are personal difficulties arising between trainer and handler. This is a specified future service dog, by the way. I have paid for everything for this pup up to this point, willingly (shots, prevention, & paid for training) and toed the line trainer dictated. Now I have been educating myself very recently on the laws with service dogs and realize things are not quite as told to me, and I want to discontinue training with this trainer. I bottom line have been lied to, but mostly over the phone, only a bit in text as proof. Any possibility of retaining my pup? The pup and its litermates were all donated to the trainer in the first place. I have paid in training fees already way over the price charged for the other pups sold. Just trying to figure out my options. This pup is for my special needs child, and they will be devastated if they have to lose their dog too. My child has been through so much recently and doesn’t do well with change with their diagnosis. Thank you.

  4. I purchased a potential breeding dog (stated in contract) from a breeder who is now saying she does not sell to breeders. The original application stated that I was considering breeding the dog when it turned of age, and the breeder had extensive conversation with me about this possibility. After the dog turned 15 months the breeder met with me and the dog to determine whether the dog was breed quality. At that time she determined the dog was breed quality, and we evaluated a stud with which she was to be bred. Everything was fine at that point, and she agreed to have my dog bred with this dog. I have saved written communication with this breeder that shows her searching for studs and planning the breeding of my female. Now she is arbitrarily backing out saying I must spay this female. She has not given me any explanation other than they (the kennel name) does not feel comfortable co-breeding the dog. Do I have a case since I have written communication and witnesses stating that she HAS agreed to allow this dog to be bred?

  5. Hi Jean – thanks for this great question. First, I would ask if you have a written contract with the breeder. And if you own the dog yourself or if you co-own the dog with her/him, the breeder. If you have a contract or co-ownership, that would rule the decision. If not, the written and oral communications (oral are hard to prove and you may run into a statute of frauds problem due to the time that has elapsed) will be necessary. If there is a contract, and there are damages indicated, you may find you have a financial obligation to the breeder. If there is no contract, you may have a problem with AKC or whatever registry the dog is registered with if the breeder/co-owner refuses to sign off on the dog or if they contact the registry with a complaint. In some cases, it may be she is just bluffing but in some, you could have real headaches even if not legal battles over this situation. The question is if the breeding and quality of the dog is worth the potential battle – financial and reputation trouble you could have.

  6. Someone bought a dog from me with a contract that stated “as is” and will provide what records I could find. Now they are saying that I sold them the dog under theft by deception. I gave them info about the dog and it was limited. I told them I would get what I could find. Am I breaking any laws?

  7. I bought a dog from an individual with a contact stating “As-Is” but at the same time the seller told us that the dog had received a clear bill of health and would provide that record. When the dog showed some signs of sickness when we got the dog home, we called the vet that the seller said she used. The vet told us that the previous owner had REFUSED treatment due to financial constraints. This was contrary to what she told me and my wife at the time of purchase. When we took the dog to our vet he immediately ran blood work and diagnosed the dog with a uterus infection and said the dog had had one for quite sometime. If the seller stated something at the time of contract and then did not come through, what recourse do we have?

  8. Hi, can you tell me if a dog is stolen and it was purchased for 2700, and grand larceny is over 2500, is it still grand larceny if it sickly and no longer a puppy, 13 months old???
    It makes a difference to a pending case on a dog rescued by an organization from an animal abuser and perhaps facing charges by a unsympathetic police department.

  9. Hi,
    My daughter entered into an agreement (online) to purchase a Shih Tzu puppy from a breeder in Charlottesville, VA. (My daughter lives in NY.) The actual owner of the dog was in Nigeria. The agreement was that when my daughter wired $250 to the owner the breeder would arrange to fly the dog
    to the airport nearest my daughter’s home. Instead of sending the dog my daughter was contacted by both the breeder and the ownnwer asking for an additional $150 to revise the paperwork so that the dog could be sent. We are asking for a refund but are being put off. Is there any recourse to get the $ back ?

  10. We bought a purebred pup from owners that bought him from the breeder. We contacted the breeder and she is saying the first buyers breached contract by selling the pup to us because she had first rights to buying him back. What are our rights as innocent third party buyers?

  11. Hi – Without seeing their contract, it is hard to know if they had one, and how it was worded. You should ask for a copy of the contract from the party to purchased the puppy from.

  12. If you purchased a puppy without a contract or any paperwork at all, who owns the breeding rights? The breeder says they want $500 if I breed my dog and will sue me if I don’t pay. We have no contract at all.

  13. Bought cat off kook of a breeder. Contract stated should be neutered at 9 months no sooner. No other caveat at all. Contract does not say paperwork to be provided to breeder. Now years later (i no longer have the cat) suddenly wants paperwork. Long story short after spending 1250 for the cat . Cat did not fit in with our family, so i gave away. What kind of damages can this kook seek from me, if any?

  14. We were just given a dog from co worker. She was purchased by two owners ago. An older woman who first purchased her. given to my friends son, who neglected her, and dropped off at my friends door step. And the older woman signed a contract that stated she was to be bred at two years old. The son gave her up to his parents, and his parents gave her to us. Can we get her fixed, since we are the only ones who want her. We are not going to breed her. We feel that we should be able to. We have not seen any papers that state this, and do not feel that the past is even legal.

  15. I co-own a male dog with the breeder, since 6 mos now 2. signed a contract “attempt to complete championship”, this is somewhat vague so my question is could I consider x 10 amount of attempts by age 2 sufficient? He has no points. I admit have been hesitant to allow them to take him to shows as he literally hides behind me when she comes into my business. Possibly remembers being crated or water sprayed. Or her daughter who lives with them has a different breed clearly states her dislike of her moms breed. And has admitted grabbing my dog by the throat when he was humoing her so my dilemma is I want nothing to do with these people made a mistake and Bobby hates them as well.

  16. My purebred poodle was bred by another poodle, not on purpose, who is owned by a woman who has a contract not to breed him. The kennel he came from is now suing for $10,000 for breach of contract. They are also demanding I turn over all the puppies to them. There is no mention of offspring in her contract and I have no contract with anyone. Do they have a right to my puppies?

  17. There is a CKC registered purebred dog breeder in Canada who insists on pet puppies that have been neutered being in co-ownership without being clear about this to the dog owners. How can a pet owner one deal with this situation if they neglected top read the ownership on the registration documents?

  18. I guess we co-own our dog with the breeder we bought her from. We paid extra for “the pick of the litter” with the understanding that she would have to have 2 litters of puppies. The breeder would take care of the whelping of the puppies as well as the sale of them. We would get 20% of the sale of each puppy. We were also “allowed” to keep a puppy from each litter (which we elected not to do). We were told we should keep the dog in good shape if we wanted to show her. It has been 12 puppies and 3 years since we last spoke with the breeder. After the last litter, we told the breeder’s daughter, we were spaying the dog. The breeder just contacted us (she now lives 1500 miles away) that she would like to show the dog. Our dog is in no shape to be shown as she is overweight and we have no interest in showing her at this point. We feel we fulfilled our part of the bargain by giving her 12 puppies to sell. Do we have to deal with her?

  19. I am in need of advise. We signed a contract with a breeder for a “male” kitten and were due to fly to another state to pick up our new kitty in two weeks. We only wanted a male as our female cat will not be as accepting of a female. The kitty we are to adopt is now almost 11 weeks old. The breeder took him to the vet to get him spayed and it turns out that she can’t seem to differentiate between a male and female, as the vet learned that our male kitty is a female.

    We don’t want a female kitten and are already out the cost of airline tickets, the flight specific carrier, etc. The breeder has offered nothing but the opportunity to adopt a different male when one becomes available (this could take months). Would it be appropriate to request that she reimburse the cost of our airline tickets as they were purchased for the purpose of retrieving a “male” kitten that is no longer available? As it is now, we either accept a kitten we do not want or we are out the cost of our airline tickets (almost as costly as the pricey kitten).

  20. I just adopted a dog from a nice family who just wasn’t in a position to give him the attention he needed. We signed paperwork stating that even if their situation changed, that they would not be allowed to attempt to get him back; because when I have a dog, he or she is my family for the rest of his or her life. We really did our research to make this agreement fair on all sides, and everyone involved agreed to all of the terms.

    Come to find out, the breeder they purchased the dog from had a clause in the sale paperwork that states that if for any reason they could not keep the dog, that it will be returned to her. Is there a real possibility that she could take him from me? Is there a possibility of legal recourse for this? How enforceable is a clause like that? I was just trying to do my due diligence and make sure that my ownership was ironclad in case of anything in the future. I thought we were doing a good thing preventing a dog from being surrendered to a shelter.

  21. My wife purchased a Great Dane from a breeder with no contract. Well, within 72 hours the puppy became ill with parvovirus and died at 5 days of ownership. We contacted the breeder and they agreed to replace the puppy. However, this puppy came with a contract between my wife and the breeder. I signed the paper nut my name is nowhere on the contract. Also, the seller didn’t sign the copy we received. Is this contract valid? The seller also marked both spots on the registration part in the contract but refused to give us the AKC papers.

  22. I co-own a dog with my breeder. This female was bred several times and each time we both signed off as co-owner. However there is a clause in the sale of the puppies that if the owner for some reason could not keep the dog then the breeder has first right of refused and would be involved in re-homing the dog. One of the puppies that was co-owned has been returned to the breeder. She has now placed this dog in her breeding program and I was informed that I had no shared ownership of this dog.

  23. If a contract is not signed by the seller, and the seller turns out to not be a licensed breeder, seller, or vendor, and there is a clause saying “Dog has to be given back if it cannot be kept,” is the contract valid?

  24. If a breeder has a signed contract with an owner that dies, is the contract still valid? In this situation, the dog was taken to a shelter by a third person where it was neutered despite the breeder’s request that per the conditions of her contract with the now deceased owner, the unaltered dog be turned over to her.
    Thanks very much!

    1. If a breeder has a contract with an owner that dies, it seems the dog would now belong to the spouse. The spouse would like to give the dog to his deceased’s wife’s friend, however the breeder thinks she should get the dog back — apparently for free. Since a dog is considered property, isn’t the dog now the property of the spouse and he is not bound by the contract? The spouse did not sign the contract.

  25. I have contracted with a breeder to give her 3 litters from our female dog. We have completed one litter. Before our dogs next heat the owner of said company i have the contract with sent out an email to everyone stating she had dissolved her business and the dogs that were currently pregnant would be her last. I researched it and the company status with the state is voluntarily dissolved. The contract i had with the company did not provision for any action by the company but rather if i did not meet the standard breeder agreement. My problem is that the previous owner is emailing everyone with a different but similar company name asking for dog info to schedule future breedings. I have not responded to any emails to avoid inadvertently acknowledging i have an obligation to someone i did not contract with. I know the owner has the right to collect her assets after dissolution but if i paid 1k for the dog with the obligation of providing 3 litters, what right does she have to the dog at this point? Would she have had to give me notice on what she expects of active contracts or does she have so much time to act following dissolution? The company was dissolved May 2019. I know she was trying to sell the company a year ago with no success. I honestly believe the breeders assistant is working under her name and trying to collect on contracts to a company that no longer exists.

  26. We are in the process of purchasing a puppy from a breeder and they just sent us the purchase contract. How do we know if the terms are excessive? Some of the language in the contract seems a little over the top, but we’ve never purchased an AKC dog before so it could be standard. At this point I’m not sure if we even want to purchase said puppy.

    1. Chela, I breed and sell AKC German Shepherds. If you feel the contract is excessive, back out. Never enter into an agreement you are uncomfortable with. This causes nothing but trouble not only for you and the breeder, but for the poor pup that will inevitably be put in the middle. Not all AKC breeders have such crazy contracts and rules. Best of luck to you ma’am!

  27. We purchased a beautiful pick of the litter from a well-known, very reputable breeder and signed a non-breeding contract with him to have the dog neutered when it becomes safe for this procedure.

    Unfortunately my parents have fallen ill and life’s circumstances have made life very complex, and unfortunately I will not be available for the proper care of him. It’s breaking my heart but I’ve decided to rehome him. I’m going to sell him and have reached out to the breeder for clarifications to my obligation to honor this contract. What are my risks if I sell him without this contract attached and should I expect that he has any recourse with me if the new owner doesn’t follow through! Please I’m so confused!

  28. my boy met another Staffordshire bull Terrier down the park me and the other owner got talking and texting as she wanted to breed her dog with mine, we bread under the pretence that we were getting a pup or stud fee but we made sure she knew we wanted a pup as a addition to the family as a pet she has now backed out of giving us a pup they are now born and she is not giving me a stud fee what grounds do I stand on legally I feel robbed surly this is theft or robbery as we have messages to show what happened and what was said where can I go with this

    1. I have 2 akc great Danes that have had 2 litters on the second litter one of the buyers is saying they want a refund because they had there pup DNA tested and ois not pure breed that one of the parents grand parents has golden retriever in it what should I do I feel like I’m not at fault

  29. Hello, I’ve signed a contract for a dog but the breeder has changed the contract twice now. And I’ve signed both contracts. Is this legal?

  30. If you sell a dog with first rights in a written contract and they don’t contact you before selling the dog … what can be done? What time frame is this good for (if there isn’t an expiration date)?

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