More than a few times co-owners of show dogs have come to me with a disagree-ment over the ownership of a dog. At least one party says "Look, I am on the AKC registration certificate as an owner!" If only it were that easy. Then I ask, "Is there a written contract?" The answer is invariably, "No."
Years ago I was gifted a show dog, Sandspur's All Eyes on Me. I could have Toby, but I had to show him for eight months. I did. In the ring, he was bad, I was worse.* I never had his AKC papers. I wasn't on the registration. I always thought if anyone claiming "ownership" of Toby came looking for him, they would have never found "my dog." I thought I owned Toby, but did I?
The question is whether an American Kennel Club Certificate of Registration is enough to prove ownership? Maybe, maybe not. In 1980, an Illinois court tackled the question. The court said "mere documentary title is not conclusive of ownership. The Certificate of Registration created only a prima facie presumption of title which could be rebutted by other competent evidence of actual ownership." Buczkowicz v. Lubin, 80 Ill. App. 3rd 200, 202, 399 N.E.2d 680, 682 (1980). In other words, an AKC registration will get you into court, but it is not the final word on ownership. In that case, the handler and alleged "co-owner" put her name on the registration to facilitate showing the dog.
Dog fanciers need written contracts to prevent these disputes. It should be routine that co-owners enter into written contracts for who will provide food, water, shelter, and vet care. And if one co-owner will show or stud the dog, that should be in the contract too. The contract should include how the dog will be transported, who will cover the transportation costs, who will pay the handler's fees, who gets the ribbon, and how many times a year, and it should also deal with breeding fees and whether and who gets puppies from the litter. It doesn't have to be a complex contract, it just need to cover all the issues.
Too many times it seems like the "true owner" of the dog, the one who raises, trains, feeds, waters, walks, and treats, is controlled by the co-owner who wants to show the dog. It's a situation where a small part is attempting to control the whole of something. It's the "tail wagging the dog." A simple, inexpensive contract will end the fussing and fighting over our furry best friends.
* My handler and Toby took Reserve in the Charlotte cluster in 2002.