Two Sides of the Dog Collar: Puppy Contract Musings
“Woof!” There are over 63 million United States households that know this sound when they come home from school or work. It’s the sound of your precious pup who keeps you company during the midst of your studies or sane after a long day at the office. Many of these furry friends were procured from a breeder where the buyer was obligated to sign a puppy contract. The general purpose of a puppy contract is to protect the dog. But how far can a breeder go before a court will not enforce the contract? Though these musings do not provide legal advice or opinions, following are some general points to consider if you purchase a puppy from a breeder or sell a puppy to a buyer.
THE BREEDER'S DILEMMA
The main goal of the breeder is to protect the puppy and make sure it is provided with a safe and healthy home. So, the breeder should keep in mind that the contract will create a relationship between the dog, the owner, and the breeder. Regarding basic contract-law principles, the breeder should make sure the parties formed a valid contract that is in writing with clear terms. Though the breeder may want to include all specific terms and conditions that are in the best interest of the pup, ultimately it is sound advice to try and draft a simple contract with reasonable demands. These could include the purchase price, spaying or neutering, subsequent breeding limitations, and vaccinations provisions. Separate from the official contract, the breeder could consider including a list of highly-recommended points and term that a court would likely not enforce. Some of those terms could include the sending photos every week showing development of the puppy, specific food brands to feed, or when the puppy should eat/ walk/sleep.
THE BUYER'S PREDICAMENT
“If at any time, the seller finds that the puppy/dog is allowed to behave in a manner not acceptable to seller, the buyer must surrender the puppy/dog to the seller. It shall include all of its registration documents, with ownership transfer adequately signed.” Ponder this provision taken from an actual dog breeder’s contract. This ambiguous language may not be enforceable in a court of law, because what does “behaving acceptably” mean? On the other hand, would this type of language dissuade a potential buyer from wanting to enter into a transaction with the breeder in the first place? Maybe. Some breeders use stock forms, many knowing that some or all the provisions are unenforceable, or because they naïvely believe them enforceable. Nonetheless, the buyer can rest assured that if a provision is deemed unreasonable, the provision(s) likely will not be upheld. But to prevent potential disputes, it’s still best for the buyer to check the contract, as drafted, and propose amended language and terms before signing on the dotted line.
So, many puppy contracts, or provisions of them, are not legally enforceable if they are unreasonable or micromanage the buyer. Though our furry friends are members of our families, one must remember that they are still legally considered property (even though a breeder, you, and I probably would non-legally argue otherwise). Ultimately, remember that there are two sides to every dog collar when drafting a puppy contract that could result in the full contract or provisions of it from being legally enforceable.
Cooley Law School Professor Matthew Marin currently teaches Contracts, Florida Bar Exam Skills, and Bar Exam Skills at the law school's Tampa Bay campus. He has also served as the Academic Resource Center Coordinator and as an Adjunct Professor teaching Research & Writing, Drafting, Florida Bar Exam Distinctions, BarPlus, Florida Bar Workshop, and Introduction to Law I and II.