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  • Writer's pictureBethany Nicole

Who Gets The Pets In A Breakup?

Updated: Mar 19

When Couples Part Ways, Which Way Do The Pets Go?

dog in a moving box

❤️‍🩹Breakups are hard.

Losing a beloved pet in the process? That's even harder. Pets can feel like family, and they certainly have feelings too.

So what do you do when you're saying goodbye to a relationship? Where do the pets go, and with whom? Here's my take on the Pet Policy of breakups.

Who Gets The Pets?

I get asked this... a lot. And I will be honest with you, I have seen more fights over Fido and bizarre pet custody situations than I care to share. Yet one thing almost all of them have in common..they don’t work. Or they don’t last. Or they ultimately don’t fully suit anyone's(including the pet's) needs. Usually, the best thing to do--is the best you can. Most of the time it is better if the pet goes with one person, and one person only. I'll get into why in a moment, but the way to figure out which person--usually looks like this.

The equation most often goes something like this...

If you came into the relationship with the pet--it's yours.

If they came into the relationship with the pet--it's theirs.

If you got the pet together--Who has the best house/financial/work etc. setup and schedule for the pet? Who has a closer relationship with the pet? Does the pet seem to favor/lean towards/be more bonded with one owner? Whose name is on the pet's documents, if any?

There are caveats of course. If there are two pets and they are bonded, if one person has a better setup even if they weren't the original owner etc. Yet again, I say usually it is better if a decision is made where the pet goes, and is stuck to. "Sharing custody" most often doesn't work.

Why Do I Say This?

Many, many reasons my friend. But for our purposes, I'll narrow it down to the 3 biggest ones and give you real-life examples of how they usually play out.

It's Confusing

Dog looking at the camera

Continued engagement post-breakup, can often lead to blurred boundaries. After being in a relationship with someone, especially for years, it is hard to just flip a switch and change the entire rules and structure of the relationship. Even if romantic feelings are gone, feelings of jealousy, resentment, and possessiveness can still linger. Or even if you think you are over someone, the introduction of a new person into their life, can trigger a lot of trapped emotions, and when it does... watch out!

I've seen SO many examples of people sharing pet responsibilities that soon backslide into re-engagement of the relationship. Not getting back together per se but falling into old patterns, blurred boundaries, or bad habits. Emotionally or financially depending on each other, hooking up, hanging out, getting into fights, you name it--I've seen it. Talk about energetic entanglement!

"Even if romantic feelings are gone, feelings of jealousy, resentment, and possessiveness can still linger."

The reason I encourage couples to make clean breaks is to allow some of those emotions to resolve and energetics to clear. It allows everyone to recalibrate, gain perspective, and achieve independence both from the other person and the relationship dynamic itself. Think of it this way.

  • Continued Interaction =Continued Disagreements and Hurt Feelings (usually)

  • Continued Engagement=Blurred Boundaries and Relationship Re-Engagement (usually)

Continued interaction post-breakup really leaves the door open for continued disagreements. You probably weren't getting along so well before, now do you really want to continue fighting every other week when you go to pick up the pooch? Or via text every other day? Keeping the lines of communication wide open post-breakup is not always the best course of action. Especially because right on the other side of the coin from fighting is often another F* word.

You guessed it! I have seen SO many hookup scenarios born of pet visitation arrangements. It's understandable, it can be hard to flip the switch. But again unless your goal is reconciliation, this is just majorly blurring some boundaries and will inevitably lead to the Fighting Side of the coin being flipped. All of which leads to...

It's Difficult to Move On

Corgi side eyeing the camera

All of the things previously listed make it hard to move on. Which is honestly the entire point of a breakup, otherwise why break up at all? Just stay together. Be all the way in, or all the way out. Gray areas don't tend to work well in the relationship arena, especially if you are trying to move on.

As I mentioned, sometimes(oftentimes) we think we are over it. We think we've moved on, and we are friends with them and all is well. Then they start dating someone else and suddenly all these big emotions come boiling to the surface. It happens to all of us. It's pretty natural. Which is why it's usually best to give the other person some space, allow the disengagement to happen, and then at some future point consider being friends. The goal of the initial breakup phase should be graceful exits and conscious disentanglement. Period. Friendship can follow down the line.

Meaning while at first you might feel fine going over to their house to watch Fido three nights a week, when you find out you are watching Fido so they can go on a date with Jimmy, you might feel differently. Or they may decide Jimmy is the new daddy Fido needs and you are no longer considered. Which is not going to make you feel good. Also, Jimmy might not be so pleased that you are hanging out at his girlfriend's house three nights a week. Oh, and your new girlfriend doesn't love it either.

See how complicated that all gets? No one is really happy, no one is fully moving on and that is a recipe for confrontation and disaster. Which leads me to my next point.

It's Unsustainable

fluffy dog with bow posing for the camera

What is the long-term plan here? There's no way watching someone else's dog at their house two nights a week is sustainable. You can't be someone's forever dog walker. Dogs have feelings too and being shuffled around between parents, homes, and schedules is confusing for them, and you.

Yes, having a guardian leave their lives is hard on pets, but so is having one enter, then exit, then enter, then kind of exit, then enter again, then totally disappear, then magically re-appear, rinse, and repeat. Pets like consistency, and having one home with the same person in it, on their one schedule, actually gives them that.

Also, think about the long term. You most likely can't keep this up for the entirety of the pet's life. What happens when you start seeing other people? Marrying other people? Having kids with other people? Do you really think you are going to be prioritizing play dates with your ex-partner's pooch?

And what if someone wants to move away? What are you going to draw up a pet custody agreement? Come on. It's just not realistic. It's really just kicking the can down the road.

Breakups lead to dissolution, to separation, and a parting of ways and lives. It's sad and it's hard. But we can do hard things. Which means figuring out the best possible solution for the pet in the long term. That is the kindest thing we can do--for them, our former partner, and us.

Examples of It Going Wrong:

Still unsure? To show you this isn't just my personal opinion, it is something I have seen over and over--Here are some real-life examples.

Example #1

🎥"Jeff" and "Sarah" had been together for several years. Sarah had two small dogs when they met, and they ended up getting one more dog while they were together. When they broke up, Jeff moved out and Sarah kept the apartment. Therefore, they decided she would keep the dogs and he would continue to come walk them sometimes and petsit for her while she was out of town(she traveled fairly regularly for work.) At first, the arrangement worked out ok. Until it didn't. Two things happened.

One--the continued interaction and late-night visits led to a fall back. They began sleeping together on occasion(even though Jeff was dating other people.)

Two--Jeff was dogsitting at Sarah's(and his former) apartment. Once while he was there he found a condom wrapper in the trash can-- and LOST IT. He freaked out on Sarah calling her names, trashing her apartment, and even cutting up some of her clothes. Basically just lost all that was his mind. (I know it's hard to believe but Jeff was usually a very normal, nice, and laid-back guy!) So...Why the scene? Because there was still SO much entanglement between the two. And although it's usually not that extreme, many former couples are fine being friends, until a new person arrives on the scene and then--chaos. Relationships often leave resounding feelings, even if the person isn't aware of them. Jeff still had feelings for Sarah and seeing that she was hooking up with other people in "their"(in his subconscious mind) apartment, caused him to LOSE it. He equated it(in his mind) to her cheating on him. See how that goes?

Example #2

🎥"Mike" was dating "Tasha." Tasha had two dogs on her own but when Mike moved in he loved them and felt like they were part his. When they broke up Tasha would have him continue to dog sit them, sometimes at her apartment, sometimes at his. Then she went out of the country for a few months, since the dogs were older she didn't feel she could take them with her. "Mike" moved into her apartment to watch them.

Then he tried dating. Tasha was weirded out he was bringing other women back to her apartment, and the other women were weirded out he lived in his ex's apartment. So while Mike was trying to start a new relationship with someone, he was living in Tasha's apartment and having ongoing fights with her. Not exactly a recipe for success. Finally, the whole thing imploded, Mike got kicked out, his new girlfriend broke it off, and he never saw the dogs again anyway.

Example #3

🎥"Laura" and "Tom" got a puppy together while they were in a relationship. Tom broke up with Laura who then moved out of Tom's house but insisted on taking the dog. Tom felt guilty so he let her. Tom still wanted to see the dog.

Laura used the dog as a pawn. She would withhold the dog if Tom didn't do what she asked or bend to her unreasonable demands. She would threaten to give the dog away. She would ask Tom to pay half the vet costs but never show him the actual bill. She would say Tom could come get the dog and then not be home when he showed up. She would drive by his home when he had the dog and if she saw other cars there she would demand to know who was there around "her dog."

She even parked in the driveway once behind Tom's new girlfriend's car and stormed up to the front door demanding he return the dog to her. Finally, at his wit's end, Tom pulled out the purebred papers(they had bought the dog from a breeder) that were in his name and threatened to take Laura to court. He kept the dog. Laura went away. A TON of drama, chaos, and trauma for everyone involved, for literally no reason.

 Examples of It Going Right:

Example #1

🎥One couple each had separate dogs before getting married. They got divorced. One person kept the house, the other wanted to move away and do some traveling. The dogs were super bonded to each other. The partner who kept the house wound up keeping both dogs. Both dogs and owners are happy as can be, no major meltdowns, required.

Example #2

One couple got a puppy during their relationship. While both loved and cared for it, one really had a bigger role in the dog's life. She worked from home with it, spent more time with it, and did more of the vet visits/feeding/walking. When the couple broke up the dog stayed with her. The other person was sad, and initially, the dog seemed confused, but soon both were able to move on. Both humans and dog are doing well.

Example #3

One couple started a relationship, one partner had two dogs before they got together. The other person really loved the dogs. The couple broke up. The dogs stayed with their original owner who then moved to Florida for work. The dogs got a new life on the coast where they discovered they loved the surf and sand. The other previous partner was sad at the loss but soon started a new relationship and was able to move on as well.

Did you notice with the top examples I had to include names and all kinds of details--why--because they are confusing! The bottom three examples were clean, clear, and kind. Which is the goal of breakups.

Don't get me wrong, pets are like family and it's really awful to have to give one up. And of course, they have feelings, they can grieve and mourn the loss too but they are also adaptable and resilient--just like you! The truth is, things are going to change for them regardless, and truly you are just kicking the can down the road by shuffling them back and forth until something happens. They aren't children whom you can explain the changes and new arrangement to, so giving them stability is usually what's kindest for them, and Clarity is what's kindest for you and your former partner.

To Sum It All Up....

neon love sign

The truth is breakups are hard on everyone--humans and animals.

There isn't always a perfect solution and of course, we worry about our furry family members and what's best for them. We are sad if we lose them or don't get to see them anymore, yet at the end of the day, truly what's the alternative?

All we can do with breakups(and everything else) is do the best we can. Try to do what's best for all involved and move on.

All We Can Do Is Our Best...

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