The message board title plaintively screamed to be clicked: “I’m breaking up with my boyfriend and I don’t know what to do!” It was in the “pets” section, which I found rather perplexing. After clicking on the link, she went on to explain that although she could care less about the demise of her relationship, she was having major misgivings about losing the companionship of her ex’s labrador, Moe.
It comes up more often than one might think. There was a divorce case here in San Diego that lives on in legend and lore after the well to do couple spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting over custody of the pointer they adopted from the shelter two years prior to their divorce. Only after enlisting the services of a veterinary behaviorist to assess the dog’s quality of life with the two owners was the judge able to come to a conclusion as to who would provide the better home.
While the vision of two people (well, two lawyers) duking it out over a dog seems more Disney matinee than real life, losing a pet along with a relationship can be a real cause of distress for people. Supposedly, some rescues won’t even adopt a pet to a couple without a separation custody agreement in place. Can we call that a pre-pup? Please?
I admit I haven’t given the idea a whole lot of thought, personally. It’s blazingly apparent who would inherit the whole hairy shebang in my case, were my marriage to implode. Though it does beg the question of whether I would qualify for petimony. I hope so. Kongs are expensive.
I have seen this be an issue in cases where two roommates who are not romantically involved adopt a pet together, then decide to move on. In those cases, determining ownership often comes down to the typical paper trail that defines “ownership”:
- The person who obtained the pet, as shown on adoption/purchase records
- The person who licensed the dog
- The person who registered the microchip
- The person who paid the vet bills
When I was in vet school, my freshman year roommate and I adopted two cats. Within a month it was apparent they loved her and could care less about me. They tolerated me, but they slept on her face. Needless to say, she took them with her when we moved on and we were all fine with that.
It’s not an issue I find myself too concerned about. I’m actually just happy that people care enough to fight over who gets to live with their pet. My vet school classmate Candy was bound and determined to see her spay surgery class dog (who came from the local shelter) in a good home. After vetting multiple potential families, she placed this dog in the care of a energetic young couple who promised the dog a life of hiking and love.
Four months later, Candy got a call from the shelter wondering if she wanted her dog back. (Before adopting the dog out, she had microchipped the dog in her name.) Apparently this couple broke up, couldn’t handle that the dog was a reminder of the failed relationship, and dumped her at the shelter without even having the class to let Candy know they weren’t keeping her. She was adopted again, this time to her forever home.
With that in the back of my mind, I can’t get too upset over custody battles. It’s better than the alternative.
What say you? If you have a significant other, do you think custody would ever be a issue if you broke up?