Oscar and the Chocodiva

Online home for Oscar and the ChocoDiva or, to be precise, the online home for Morrigan's Cu mac Shimidh and Morrigan's Godiva.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Writing a Strong Puppy Contract

The following is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. The information contained herein is meant for educational purposes only.

Contracts are the tool by which breeders may attempt to safeguard a happy and healthy relationship with puppy buyers. A contract is defined as an agreement between two parties to do a particular thing (sell a puppy) in exchange for something of value. Regardless of whether a puppy is placed as a companion, a show dog or breeding stock, a well-written, clear and concise contract establishes expectations for both parties and can attempt to ensure the health and wellness of the puppy, a goal for which all breeders strive.

But many breeders reuse the same old contract from twenty years ago or pilfer one from another breeder with little regard as to whether it properly states the breeder’s expectations and assurances for the buyer. There are not too many lawyers specializing in the sale of well-bred puppies, so bringing a rough draft of a contract to your attorney may save on fees later and give the attorney something with which to work.

What elements are essential? Regardless of one’s state of residence, certain criteria must be represented in an effective contract.
  • Identify the parties. State the correct legal and full names of the breeder or breeders and the buyer or buyers. Then assign a nickname to make the reading of the contract easier later.
  • Describe the purpose. Clearly state that this contract is for the sale of a puppy.
  • Consideration. In order for both parties to be held to the contract, there must be an exchange. The puppy buyer gives money in exchange for a puppy. Compensation may take many forms, and while money is the most common, the contract can call for property, a promise to do or not do something, relinquishing a claim, etc.
  • State the terms. This is the meat of the agreement. State the expectations, the requirements, the guarantees, as well as any other terms or items that should be addressed.
  • Include relevant signatures. Written contracts must be signed by the person or persons to be charged with a breach. A person is charged with a breach when some part of the contract is violated.

It is absolutely essential to include where the contact is to be contested, should conflict ever arise. This is the Choice of Law Clause. Statements along the lines of “This agreement is hereby entered into and wholly executed in the State of Breeder’s State and litigation arising from any possible breach of this agreement shall be adjudicated in the Superior Court of Breeder’s County, Breeder’s State, in accordance with Breeder’s State law.” This provides the breeder with some notion of how the contract can or will be interpreted. Judgments can change depending on which law the court applies, so save money and time and know local law and write the contract in accordance with your state of residence.

State law will always override a contract. To prevent making this sort of error, research your state laws regarding the purchase of property and so-called “Puppy Lemon Laws”. Some states allow 14 days, for instance, for the puppy buyer to have the puppy evaluated by a vet. If the breeder’s contract designates a shorter time period, the state law would rule. States laws also tend to aim at pet stores and larger entities versus hobby breeders, but breeders should investigate their state laws and understand how their kennel or puppy-raising is defined. More information regarding Pet Lemon Laws is available at http://www.avma.org/advocacy/state/issues/pet_lemon_laws.asp

Another commonly overlooked item valuable in contract writing is a notary clause. Have your contracts acknowledged by a notary public, or “notarized”. While many states no longer require contracts be notarized, it could save a lot of hassle. Buyers could potentially deny that they had ever signed the contract or state that the signature was not theirs. A notarized signature eliminates that possibility and saves time in court.

Define the terminology and concepts used in the contract, not only for the puppy buyer, but also for the attorney, arbitrator, or judge that one day may be involved in settling a dispute. For instance, do not only say OFA. Instead, write out Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). This should include any and all terminology or jargon special to dogs, dog breeding, dog shows and dog ownership.

Contracts can take many shapes and the only ones that are wrong are those that are illegal! Many breeders use one contract for all their puppies and offer all the same guarantees and assurances regardless of the puppy’s pet or show “quality”. Others have a foundation contract that is then supplemented with separate documents outlining their “Health Guarantee” or impose the “Limited Registration Clause” or even the “Co-Ownership Agreement”. These can take the form of addendums to main contract. Whatever system works for your kennel is the right system to implement.

By writing and using a contract tailored to your kennel, you can improve the likelihood of your puppies finding the right homes and better the communication between yourself and your puppy buyer. Your expectations as a breeder are presented in clear black and white language that the puppy buyer can either agree to or not. And if they choose not to agree, then the breeder is saved the hassle or heartache of unfulfilled expectations and potentially dangerous environments for their puppies. If the puppy buyer agrees, they know exactly what is expected.

The following example of a basic companion puppy contract is not presented as a perfect contract, but rather a place in which to start delving into what kind of contract is right for you. All the basic elements are present. Customize it to your needs and then present it to your attorney for review.

(email me if you'd like a copy of the sample contract)

Written by Jennifer McKemie (originially published in The Guardian, newsletter of the SSMF, 2008)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mirra's Major

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Feeding Your Dog

Over the last few weeks the topic of dog food has come up more than usual. I think we've all noticed changes in the foods, especially Nutro, since the "economic downturn". Ingredients are changing and our dog's satisfaction with their food - as well as their ability to tolerate these differences - are taking their own downturn.

I'd thought to write out what I'd found worked for me, since that's what I keep repeating when asked, but then I remembered my favorite site about dog food. It's not a "top ten" list or "best of" list, which are really pointless to most people. This website, The Dog Food Project, at http://www.dogfoodproject.com offers a way to understand the food you are feeding and make educated choices based on that knowledge. Here is one short article that introduces the subject well:

Choosing the right food
I have touched on ingredient quality in many areas of this website, but it is also very important to choose a food that meets your dog’s individual needs.

Not every food on the market works for every dog out there, which is why I do not like to make blanket recommendations without knowing anything about a particular dog’s diet and health history. It is also the reason I refuse to publish a list of “top foods” – my mission is educating people on product quality, not promoting specific brands or products.

After ingredient quality, the next important thing about a food is that your dog must like it, since even the highest quality food on the planet won’t do if your dog refuses to eat it because he or she doesn’t like the taste. Preferences vary widely – just like in humans!

Some dogs do better with a lower or higher fat content than average, some need more or less fiber to produce consistent stools, and some dogs thrive on poultry-based foods while others cannot tolerate them and need a different protein source. Specific types of starches and fibers might give one dog gas but work out perfectly for another.

Another important point is how much variety one single food really needs to provide. Many people think that much-advertised products with long ingredient lists, including several types of proteins, grains, fruits, veggies and other supplements must be better to feed than “boring” formulations with limited ingredients. Fact is that the more ingredients a food has, the smaller the number of individuals who will be able to tolerate the product, and your dog might just be one of them! Feeding a more limited formula of commercial food and providing variety by adding healthy, fresh, unprocessed food items (of which you know your dog tolerates them) is a much better approach and actually adds nutritional value.

It is also not beneficial at all to feed every protein source you can get your hands on “just because you can”. Stick with the more common ones like chicken, turkey, lamb, beef and fish and avoid the more exotic types. In case dogs develop food allergies, they will need to be switched to food ingredients they have never been exposed to before in life. The more different sources you have previously fed, the more difficult it will be for you to come up with a good feeding plan in such a situation. So make sure you always read ingredient labels before buying food and treats, and keep the "exotic" meats in reserve should you need them one day.

Don’t be afraid to experiment feeding different brands though, so you can find out what works for your dog, but give it time – unless there are immediate signs of intolerance, 3-4 months is a good time frame to see short-term as well as long-term effects.

To provide variety in an appropriate way, it would not be a bad idea at all to rotate between several high quality brands of dry food every 3-4 months, provided your dog accepts and tolerates a food switch every so often. For individuals with sensitive stomachs the stress of digestive upset negates the benefit of rotating food products though.

When feeding primarily dry food, don’t mix different types, since every brand follows a specific formulation and nutritional philosophy, developed by the manufacturer. All products are formulated to supply nutrients in a ration of a certain size (kibble size and density vary from brand to brand), based on the body weight. Instead of getting "the best of both", your dog isn't going to eat enough of either one to get the full benefit of a particular nutritional system. Last but not least, if digestive upset occurs, it will take so much longer to figure out what exactly caused it, compared to just eliminating either the commercial food or whatever extras were fed recently.

Sabine Contreras, Canine Care and Nutrition Consultant, offers personalized feeding plans for dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages, no matter if they are companions, performance, working or show dogs.

As you come to know your dog, you will also come to recognize certain ingredients your dog doesn't tolerate as well as others or simply doesn't like. Also, there are certain ingredients that some breeds tolerate well, while others do not. For example, alfalfa and brewer's yeast are common ingredients in certain brands of food. However, in dogs such as mastiffs that are prone to bloat, alfalfa and brewer's yeast can increase that risk.

My personal choices are to feed a chicken-based food. Twenty-one percent protein for Amara as she grows and 24% for the grown dogs. Another flag for me, is cost. If it's too cheap, there's a reason. Aim for between $1-$2 a pound, according to what you can afford. More expensive does not mean better - Iams and Eukanuba are prime examples. Their ingredient lists make me shudder and yet they cost as much or more than some of the foods I like.

And don't mix foods. You dilute the quality of both and limit your knowledge of either. If you feed a little of this and a little of that, and your dog has a reaction, how are you to know which food is the cause?

Lastly, you have to become a certified "Poop Inspector". It is not okay for your dog to have cow patties in the back yard - if they do, there's a reason. Are they more stressed that day? Okay then, no worry. Normal day? Then anything less than well-formed, holds-its-shape dog poop is allowed. Nasty work, but sometimes the only way to know what's going on with your dog.

Other articles of interest regarding Dog Food:

Identifying better products

How to Choose Dog Food
Whole Dog produces a "best of" list which I find irrelevant to choosing a dog food. But it can provide a jumping off place to start your personal research into the right dog food for your dog.