Friday, September 24, 2010

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, And Hard On Pets, Too!

“He might be cute and he might be furry, but he’s still property.”
— Trial judge in a New Jersey divorce case

With around half of all marriages ending in divorce, and half of those involving pets, what happens to the dog (or other pets) becomes a major issue when couples split. Legally speaking, animals are property, and the division of assets includes dogs. This is usually pretty easy to determine, especially if the dog was acquired before the marriage, but if the dog is legally marital property than things get trickier. Remember, dogs are not humans, but these days, many pet owners view their pet ownership as custody. This article published by the National Legal Research Group does a great job of explaining the legalities of divorce when pets are involved. Many Americans are marrying later in life now, than they were a generation before, and those that are marrying are statistically having children later in life, too. Dog ownership is on the rise, and the pet industry is booming, as companies realize dog owners want to spoil their pets. Before entering a marriage, you can even have your pet written into a prenuptial agreement. With this in mind, when break-ups happen, dogs are affected.

While I have never been married, I went through a break-up with my boyfriend of over three years a few months ago. In those three years, we really shared Milly as our dog. Yes, legally, she is my dog, but emotionally, she became our dog. We lived together, we shared the responsibilities of caring for her, and we enjoyed spending time with her and taking her on a variety of adventures from wine tasting to hiking to trips to the lake and Chesapeake Bay. As many people know, the Washington, DC area is a mixing bowl of sorts, very few people are actually originally from the area, and on the holidays many people leave the city to go stay with family out-of-state. Because of this, the city gets quite lonely, should you happen to be from here originally. On holidays when I would leave to go see my family, I almost always left Milly with my boyfriend so he would have a companion. Milly adored him, and he adored her.

While our relationship did not work out in the long term, we have decided to remain friends, and I have been very careful to make this as easy as possible on Milly. For starters, he and I lived together, but I am now staying with friends. Milly is a great traveler, and having a schedule, has made this much easier on her. You might remember my post, "How Much Do You Trust Your Dog," where I discussed things like crating and feeding on a strict routine. I am so glad now that I don't free feed, because when staying with friends as a house guest, this could really complicate situations, especially with friends with other dogs. This said, she seems confused not being at home. To help her have some familiarity in her life, I let her spend four nights with my former flame, and he and I are planning on meeting at parks over the next couple of months so he can see her.

If you end a relationship, and you can remain civil, there are things to consider when it comes to the dogs. First, don’t stay in the relationship for the dog’s sake, if it isn’t working out. Dogs can sense stress and tension, and they will know if you are unhappy in the relationship. Relationships are teamwork, and responsibilities in life tend to be shared when two people become a couple. Many times, a couple will acquire dogs that together, they can care for, but neither person could care for on their own. This happened to a friend of mine a few months ago. Together, he and his significant other were able to open their home to three pugs, two of which were rescues, and gave these dogs incredible lives. But, when they broke up, neither of them was able to care for three dogs with time and financial constraints of being single. As a result, my friend kept one dog, and his ex was forced to rehome the other two. In deciding which dog to keep, he chose the one who was least attached to the other two, and would adjust to bachelor life the best. He and his ex carefully selected a forever home, from a pug owner they had boarded with in the past. The decision was not made lightly, but they did do the best they could to provide the best possible home for their beloved dogs. Even celebrities have to decide what to do with their dog when they break-up!

Should you break up, please try to be civil with your former significant other or husband, if not for your sake, than for your pets. The transition can be difficult for dogs, but maintaining a positive outlook on life will help your pet ease into the changes. In fact, according to vets at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), dogs whose owners have split up have even been known to self harm under stress. Keep an eye out for unwanted or different behavior in your dog – things like digging, excessive barking, tail chasing, or excessive licking are all signs displayed under stress. Think about things like if your dog is suitable for an apartment, if you are moving to an apartment, perhaps the other person should keep the dog. Is your dog old, and will you be living somewhere where the dog is required to climb stairs? This may be difficult for a dog should you move.

Financial obligations of pet ownership – vet bills, toys, food, training, etc. are all expensive, and you need to make sure you are capable of providing for your pet alone. If your dog has trouble adjusting to new situations, perhaps a family member could keep your dog until you adjust to a new home life. Do you have children? If so, remember these are your kids pets, and your pets are attached to your children. Arrange visitations, or better yet, leave the dog with the parent with primary custody of the kids, if they are capable of caring for the pet. Separation anxiety in dogs occurs when there is a disruption in the life of your family dog, so please be aware of this. You may need to hire a dog walker, or start taking your dog to doggie daycare, if you are unable to provide midday walks that your partner used to be responsible for. If the dog is more attached to one partner, that is probably the partner the dog should go to, provided that person can properly care for the dog. In my case, while Milly loved my former boyfriend, she clearly views herself as my dog, and is very attached to me.

Most importantly, wherever the dog moves, make sure the vaccinations and medical records go with the dog. This will help the dog stay healthy and current on all shots. The responsibility of keeping medical needs up-to-date should lie with the person who can best do that. If you do move, make sure to update your dog’s ID tags, licensing, and microchip information. Should you move out of state, look into any dog-ownership laws you may be unfamiliar with, and remember, medical records are required legally for a dog to cross state lines.

This hasn’t been easy for Milly or I, but we’re adjusting, slowly but surely. Since I am currently not living at my house, I have put an ID tag with my parents address on her collar. This way, she still has the address for my house, I know should my boyfriend be contacted about her he would immediately call me, and she also has contact info for my parents, who would also contact me. I’ve been buying lots of fun treats and a few toys for Milly, to help keep her happy. I also brought her favorite toys with me, so she has things that are familiar to her. I know that by maintaining a friendship with my ex, and allowing him to spend time with Milly, this will be so much easier on both the dog, and us humans.


  1. Aww! I do understand how difficult it can be. My ma and pa broke up after 7 years. When the break up happened, they had me for three years. My dad doesn't come to see me and I haven't seen him much at all. I do miss him and wish he would read this post!

    Hugs & smoochies!!! XOXO

  2. Well this is a very important post. Unfortunately most of us don't think about these types of things until it's too late :(

  3. One of my big fears when I was dating Aaron is that he wouldn't like Sam and Sam wouldn't like him. That would have called everything off on the spot. I feel lucky that he adores Sam, and now Monty, as much as I do. But your right, if we broke up, it would devestate the boys - they are so ingrained in our lives and us in theirs.


  4. What Jack said, yes "this is an important post". We adopted Lady as an unwanted dog from a family break-up. Dad didn't want her and Mom was coping with being a single, working Mom with 3 kids living in an apartment. Thanks God she contacted a breed specific rescue organization to find Lady a Furever home.

  5. These is really one of the important post in all these there are so many things which is really very great. I feel lucky that he adores Sam, and now Monty, as much as I do. But your right, if we broke up, it would devestate the boys - they are so ingrained in our lives and us in theirs.

  6. I am fully agree with you, that in DC area is a mixing bowl of sorts, very few people are actually originally from the area, and on the holidays many people leave the city to go stay with family out-of-state.