Contracts & Clauses

© Chris Walkowicz


“More loose strings than a Booda rope,” buyers moan! That’s a complaint we often hear about contracts between seller and buyer. Many of us have a natural antipathy to legal paperwork. Anything written in legalese tends to make us raise our hackles and lift our lips. Yet, written contracts are the only way to protect our dogs and our intentions.

What’s Common

It’s natural for both parties to attempt to obtain as many beneficial clauses as they can. Buyers hope for as much leeway as possible, and sellers want to tighten the contract so there are no loose ends. Typically, several clauses are standard in canine contracts. We, the sellers, guarantee the dog is registerable and that the animal is healthy at time of sale and for a minimum 48 hours following the purchase.

Modern-day responsible breeders require spay/neuter clauses on their pets. Many of us also put some type of restriction on show animals. These may include co-ownerships or non-breeding agreements. Co-ownerships can be complex or simple and deserve a column all to themselves. Nevertheless, forewarned is forearmed. Know the person with whom you’re binding yourself hip-to-hip for the next dozen years. Understand their intent. Determine whether this is someone you’re going to be able to work with and with whom you’ll be proud to associate. Another common clause requires buyers to contact the seller if the new owner should ever decide to place the puppy. This is helpful for both parties. The seller has more contacts through the fancy to rehome the dog if necessary. And it insures none of the seller’s puppies will ever be homeless.

Beyond this contracts begin to differ. Health guarantees can cover from the mini two days offered by a pet shop or broker to three years or even a lifetime. The average runs one to two years. Many defects show up by two years of age, and, as a fancier, this is what I would expect if I were buying. Additional clauses might require the buyer to seek care within 24 hours of abnormal sysmptoms, to obtain a post-mortem in deaths with no veterinary diagnosis, and allow no non-emergency surgeries without first contacting the seller. Clauses such as these are often added after the breeder suffers bad experiences.

Show Conditions

A couple of my buyers asked for show puppies then later declined to show. When asked why, they said, “I just wanted to be sure to get a good one.” Swallowing my disappointment, I realized my verbal and contractual demands would have to become more explicit. Some breeders are confident enough of their lines to guarantee a title. Contingent on that condition, however, a show prospect is required to be maintained, conditioned and shown to its championship. (Of course, there are always exceptions: the pup doesn’t fulfill its potential or, perhaps, a buyer becomes financially or physically unable to carry out the agreement.) Another clause might guarantee the dog to be fertile and free from hereditary defects affecting its suitability for breeding. I also require the dog to finish its title and have hips certified before breeding, or the contract becomes null and void. After being stung a couple of times, I inserted a clause to nullify the contract if the dog’s name was changed. I always tell people they may call the dog whatever they wish, but for breeding and show purposes, my choice of names must be used.

Refund or replacement, that is the question which is ultimate in many buyers’ minds. Most breeders agree to replace the dog with one of similar quality. Sounds simple, right? Not really. Some require return of the first dog in order to obtain a replacement. An easy out for the seller. Not too many owners are willing to give up their pet. Personally, I wouldn’t disrupt the owners’ lives nor the puppy’s by requiring that. I really don’t like having adults to place anyway unless it’s a necessity. A few breeders even state the first dog must be returned to them for euthanization before a replacement is given. Few owners would agree to that. Buyers should determine what ramifications are included in the “replacement” clause. Refunds are another story. Though we certainly aren’t in this for the money, it becomes difficult to continue breeding if financial losses mount up. A diminishing scale for refunds could specify something similar to the following: 100 percent up to one year, 75 percent after one year; 50 percent for the next year; and 25 percent thereafter.

All’s Not Fair

Don’t think friendship eliminates the need for a written contract. It’s often more important for friends to have everything in black and white. Relationships tend to dissolve faster than yellow snow when a misunderstanding develops because an issue wasn’t clarified on paper pre-purchase.

Putting it all down on paper isn’t the last step, however. Be sure to read it, and if there’s anything you don’t understand, ask for an explanation. The time to ask about or object to a clause is prior to the incident, not following.

I’ve sold dogs to several attorneys and never had one reject my contract or even make a suggestion. Makes one wonder. A Supreme Court Justice returned his book contract to his agent with a note that read, “I didn’t bother reading this. Assume it’s ok.”

This article first appeared in Dogs In Canada magazine, 4/98