Over a third of pet owners would stay in an unhappy relationship because of a pet, a recent study revealed.
The survey of 2,000 pet owners sought to throw light on how likely couples are to consider their pets when deciding if it’s time to call it quits.
We look at the results and whether the way rivalling ex-partners deal with pet custody impacts pets’ emotional wellbeing.
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Or read on to find out
- Should you stay together for the dog?
- Do pets suffer when their owners split?
- Pet custody after breakup
- Sharing a pet with an ex
- Doing what’s best for the pet
Should you stay together for the dog?
A whopping 36% of the pet owners surveyed by pet insurer More Than reported staying in unhappy relationships because they couldn’t decide who’d get custody of the pet.
A good example of this growing trend is the story of The New York Post’s pet columnist Julia Sazbo. Sazbo lived with her husband, including sharing a bed with him, for eight years after they separated, for the sake of their six dogs.
When they finally split up, a tug of war over their dogs ensued, with both of them going to great lengths, including consulting a pet psychic, to get to keep the favourite white Pitbull Angus.
This might sound like an unusual story, but according to More Than, and the 2,000 pet owners they surveyed, it really isn’t.
Fear of the pet being given up for adoption – a common outcome in legal disputes where the parties fail to reach an agreement – stopped 25% of pet parents from breaking up.
Deep concern for their pets’ emotional wellbeing post-breakup trapped 15% in loveless relationships, with 14% admitting to feeling guilt at the mere thought of depriving their pet of the presence of one of its owners.
And their concern might, indeed, be justified.
Do pets suffer when their owners split?
According to More Than, people who did muster the courage to call it quits with their other half reported signs of emotional disturbances in their pets.
Thirty-six percent said their pet seemed ‘confused’ while 27% revealed their pet appeared to be sad, and 20% reported signs of distress.
Twenty-one percent of the respondents were so worried about their pet’s emotional health that they sought veterinary help, with 14% saying their pet was put on medication to help alleviate the stress of the situation.
And this is not just a figment of these pet owners’ imagination.
Animal behaviourist Dr Kate Mornement says she sees a lot of pets suffer because of separation. The dismantling of the relationship causes attachment bonds to break and disrupts pets’ routine.
Cecile Mejdel, a veterinary inspector, advises that pets are affected by separation and often exhibit behavioural problems.
On the other hand, just like children, pets might be better off suffering the anxieties of a breakup rather than those of a broken home, says Dr Mornement.
So, separating and reaching a consensus might be best for all parties involved after all.
Easier said than done: More Than’s study revealed that more people were willing to fight over who gets to keep the pet rather than over valuable possessions and money.
Pet custody after breakup
Sadly, only 8% of the 2,000 pet owners surveyed said they’d reached an agreement of shared custody, with 11% sharing they were denied access to their pet after the breakup.
Rivalling couples have the option to settle the matter in court. In the UK, these cases are heard in the Small Claims Court and are on the rise, according to divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt.
However, under UK law, dogs and cats are considered inanimate objects, so when the court decides to give the pet to one partner, it cannot legally grant visitation rights to the other partner any more than it could grant visitation rights for your previously shared DVD collection.
So, can you make it work? And most importantly, for the pet’s sake rather than your own.
Sharing a pet with an ex
When it comes to sharing a pet across two homes, the experts are not unanimous. Veterinary researcher Cecilie Mejdell stresses the importance of routine for both dogs and cats.
Although she says most dogs are likely to cope well with living in two homes, she reminds us of cat’s preference for places rather than people and puppies and older dog’s need of stable routine.
She goes one step further to suggest that the best thing for the animal might be for it to live with the partner it is more attached to, meaning one partner saying goodbye for good.
Whereas, with their book What about Wally: Co-parenting a pet with your ex, family lawyer David Pisarra and pet expert Steven May hope to help couples see that co-parenting is the way to go for both the partners and the pet.
Pisarra and May, who both share pets with their former partners, say that it’s been beneficial for the pet and for the harmony of their friendships with their exes.
Doing what’s best for the pet
A growing number of couples in the UK have pets together. With the average dog lifespan being ten years and the average cat lifespan 15, the pets often outlive the relationships, leaving couples with the difficult decision of who gets the pet after separation.
In child custody battles, the court always decides based on what’s best for the kids, and this should be no different.
So, what it really comes down to is checking your ego at the door and allowing your pet’s needs, rather than your own, to inform your decision.