The monthslong legal battle over the neutering of a champion show dog and ownership of his frozen sperm ended late Tuesday when the feuding parties reached a settlement.
Beau Lemon, a bichon frise, competed all across the country — even showing once at the invitation-only Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden. But more recently, his owners, John and Mary Wangsness, sued his breeder and former co-owner, Vickie Halstead, for neutering him in 2013 without their consent. (The co-ownership ended with his neutering, according to a 2009 sales contract.)
The Wangsnesses sought more than $50,000 in damages, claiming fraud, breach of contract and emotional distress. Both sides reached a confidential settlement in Ramsey County District Court.
“I can’t say that I was entirely satisfied with the settlement,” said John Wangsness, whose wife died this past March. “I would’ve liked to have more, but that is a normal human response, and that’s counterbalanced by the fact that … I don’t have to deal with the emotional ramifications of that anymore.
The lawsuit claimed that Halstead retaliated against the Wangsnesses because they tried twice to breed Beau to a female bichon, Cha Cha, without her approval. The sales contract required Halstead’s consultation on breedings.
In late June 2013, the suit said, Halstead lied to them and said she needed to obtain Beau for a breeding. Instead, she surreptitiously had him neutered in early July 2013, calling John Wangsness that day to rub it in, the suit alleged.
“It was vindictive of Ms. Halstead,” the Wangsnesses’ attorney, Larry Leventhal, said.
Halstead disputed that claim Wednesday.
“I did not do anything out of vengeance,” she said. “My priority was always both health and welfare.”
An answer to the suit filed by Halstead’s attorney, Joseph Crosby, alleged that the Wangsnesses neglected Beau’s health, necessitating the procedure, and that Halstead had to “rescue Beau … in order to bring him back to health.”
“I’m happy it’s over,” Halstead said Wednesday of the litigation.
Beau, who turns 7 next month, earned several accolades in his career. Halstead’s website said he is a gold-level grand champion.
She said that Beau’s most prestigious accomplishment at a show was placing third at a national bichon competition. At one point before he retired, she said, he was ranked the second best bichon in the country based on his overall accomplishments.
He did not place at Westminster.
Halstead said Beau is tied with his mother, Asti, as the most successful bichon she’s bred since she began raising them in 1990.
Despite a $94,000 investment in Beau by the Wangsnesses, the show dog never made a cent, Wangsness said. His rewards instead: ribbons, statuettes, bragging rights and a likely post-show career as a breeder of future show dogs.
Although the Wangsnesses hoped to breed him after his retirement in 2012, they knew they wouldn’t come close to recouping their investment.
Since the settlement is confidential, it’s unclear what will happen to about eight vials of frozen semen that Leventhal believes are Beau’s. Crosby argued at a previous hearing that the semen belonged to Beau’s brother, Beau Jangles.
His wife once dreamed of having a puppy from Beau, but Wangsness is in no rush to add one to his household. He owns three female bichons in addition to Beau.
“I can’t say that I wouldn’t,” he said, “but not at this point in time.”
Meanwhile, Halstead co-owns one of Beau’s five puppies. Four of them are champions and one is “almost a champion,” she said.