For years I practiced in the litigation arena. It never ceased to amaze me how many people wrote unenforceable contracts or never read the contracts they signed.
A Contract, as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, is an agreement between two or more parties esp. one that is written and enforceable by law. Key here is that it is written and enforceable by law.
Now that I mediate conflicts between people over animals I see more and more issues surrounding The Big C. I decided for this weeks post I’d set out the four things you should look for when engaging with someone in a transaction, especially one involving an animal and The Big C.
If you are writing the contract, list the most important aspects for the care of the pet. Breeders tend to throw the kitchen sink in a contact, hoping to cover each and every eventuality. When they hire an attorney to write the contract for them these attorneys pride themselves in creating a document that is “bullet proof”. Yippee!!
When writing your contract, be honest with yourself—Would you sign this contract?
If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board and flesh out what really is most important to you about the future care and companionship this dog is going to receive.
When you are entering into a contract or having an attorney draft the contract for you to have a buyer sign—READ IT! You would not believe the number of times I had a client come to me and say, “they cant do that, can they?” Or “that’s not what I meant to say!” Did you read the contract? Many times, especially in rescue adoption situations, the buyer/adopter never reads the contract.
Put a mediation clause in the contract. It will enable the parties to opt for mediation as a preliminary part of enforcing the contract. No one will be seen as having a weaker case by opting for mediation. It was agreed to voluntarily before the conflict arose. Hopefully it will be exercised voluntarily to ‘nip the conflict in the bud.’
If you remember these four key elements The Big C will not be intimidating or unenforceable.
A.) Write a contract that has the key elements of care you want followed to protect the health and welfare of your pet.
You are not going to check and see if this pet is walked for an hour 3 times a day. If you sell pets cross-country are you really able to enforce the walk/bathe rules? It is a nice to have and should be in your puppy/adoption packet on the page where you list the proper method of care.
These are suggestions, ones you hope the new owner will abide by. Including a clause that enables you to go on their property, at any time, to take the dog back if you feel it is not being cared for properly, without some form of proof that the care is unsanitary or unsafe, is unfair and probably unenforceable.
B.) Honesty is the best policy. It would be nice to require the moon. It would be nice if we could think of all the things we would like back from this owner or require this owner to do.
Lets see, what are some of the terms people put in their contracts and amazingly other people agreed to and signed
i) First pick bitch and dog from the first 3 litters
ii) Seller gets the bitch back for 3 litters before she is 6
iii) Seller gets to use the dog at stud for life
iv) Buyer has to bring the dog down to be collected at a veterinarian of sellers choice at buyers expense
v) Rescue can take a dog back for any reason if it feels it is in an unsafe situation (no definition of unsafe)
vi) Buyer must finish the dog to its championship in obedience/conformation/field by age 3 at their own expense
Do you see where I am going with these terms? A court would be hard pressed to take these terms seriously. If they did one party would be left holding the bag. It would all depend on how the court construed the term. Buyer beware or Seller too restrictive.
C.) Even if you are friends with the breeder/buyer or you are doing Gods work by adopting from a rescue don’t leave common sense at the door. READ the contract. If you have questions or concerns address them before you bring the pet home. Understand they have their way of doing business. Choose to play their game or choose to walk away. Let your head rule your heart for this one brief shining moment.
This is the next great pet; you feel it in your bones. Do you want to give the rescue or seller the right to come and take the pet without giving you 5 minutes notice if in their opinion…what ever that is, you are not taking care of the dog in a safe manner?
Step away from the contract. Step away from the pet. This is not the situation you want to enter into for the next 10-15 years. You want a nurturing environment for yourself and your pet to thrive in.
D.) This next suggestion may sound a bit self-serving, but please think about adding a mediation clause. If you could have a conversation, confidentially with the person with whom you are in conflict would you take that opportunity? If so, arrange for it up front. Set the terms and trigger and pull it before the conflict gets so bad you cannot sit in the same room. Having a neutral help guide the discussion will be a lifesaver and relationship saver. The breeder will maintain a relationship with its owner/handler; the rescue with its adopter. In the end the best interests of the pet will always be the paramount consideration for all parties.
The Big C can be daunting. I hope after reading this post you realize The Big C can be Carefully written with Compassion and Concern so The Contract is just what the parties ordered.