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$________ Contract - Unauthorized breeding by dog caretaker - Conversion of funds from sale of puppies - Action for replevin.

Volusia County, FL

The plaintiff was a non-profit organization which placed breeder golden retrievers with caretakers to breed puppies for training as handicapped service dogs. The plaintiff brought this action against the defendant who was such a caretaker under a written contract. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant breached the contract by allowing an unauthorized breeding of the animal in her care with a standard poodle. The plaintiff claimed the defendant then converted the plaintiff’s property by selling the puppies and keeping the proceeds. The plaintiff sought monetary damages, as well as replevin of the golden retriever and/or her puppies. The pro se defendant argued that the breeding was accidental and that the golden retriever in her care was unsuitable for breeding due to a skin condition.

Under the contract signed by the plaintiff and the defendant, the defendant was entitled to keep the golden retriever in her care after a certain number of litters had been obtained. The contract also stated that the defendant had an obligation to breed the animal only with sires provided by the plaintiff.

However, evidence showed that a neighbor’s standard poodle jumped the fence into the defendant’s yard and an unauthorized breeding of the golden retriever took place. The defendant then sold the resulting puppies through the internet as designer "Labradoodles" and kept the proceeds, according to the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff claimed damages for loss of breeding services of the dog for a period of time and conversion of the puppies. The plaintiff sought replevin of the golden retriever and or puppies which had been in the defendant’s care.

The defendant argued that the breeder dog had a skin condition which rendered it unsuitable as a breeder. A report from the defendant’s veterinarian was stipulated into evidence and indicated that the golden retriever in question had a hereditary skin condition and was not suitable for breeding. The defendant argued that the dog’s condition released her from the breeding obligation outlined in the contract and she should own the dog outright. The defendant maintained that the dog had been in her care for several years and she was emotionally attached to the animal.

The defendant called a veterinarian who testified that he examined the golden retriever in question and found that its skin condition was caused by flea infestation. The defendant’s veterinarian testified that, after a prescribed course of medication, he examined the dog again and found that the flea infestation was gone and the skin condition had disappeared. The defendant failed to produce the golden retriever for a third examination by the defendant’s veterinarian per court order. The jury was instructed that it could infer that the result of such a third veterinarian examination would not have been favorable to the defendant.

The jury found for the plaintiff on all counts and also ordered 3I 3 that the dog and/or puppies be returned to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was awarded $________ on the breach of contract claim and $________ on the conversion claim, for total damages of $________. The plaintiff’s motion for contractual attorney fees and costs is pending.

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