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Who gets the kids in the divorce? 

Breakups are hardest on the pets.

click to enlarge House-broken, from a broken home.
  • House-broken, from a broken home.

Ah, relationships. An emotional bond and spiritual commitment to a person with whom you share your life. Sounds so nice, doesn't it? Sure, in all of that domestic bliss, some unwedded couples throw a live breathing animal into the mix.

But does adding a needy creature with a lifespan over 10 years act as a portent of doom? What happens when a couple's pet outlives the relationship? 

As the birth rate declines, couples increasingly fill that child-like hole in their hearts with a pet. For some couples, bringing in a dog through the matrimonial hearth was both a blessing and a curse. For Greg MacLean and his partner Kathleen (names changed to avoid awkwardness), it was a sign of things to come. 

"Kathleen and I got Chicken Wing, a greyhound, roughly two-and-a-half years into our relationship," MacLean explains. "We had to go through a pretty intensive screening process that foreshadowed some of the effort that goes into taking care of any dog. When Kathleen and I broke up [a year later], I took care of Wing and our two cats for a month on my own, and it was a nightmare." 

He says that taking care of a dog is a two-person job, and Wing had to move to the country with his ex's parents. "Understandably, we drifted apart and we probably didn't want to see each other anyway," he says. "Since Wing has moved out, I've taken care of him once. So I don't recommend getting a dog unless you're ready to commit to the dog beyond the relationship." 

Some couples can make joint custody work, "But I'd be lying if I said it's been easy," says Ashley Scott. Since her amicable break-up, her mature rescued dog, Tony, commutes with Scott's ex from rural Nova Scotia to the city when it's convenient.

"It usually works out well, and it's kind of nice having Tony to keep us connected in a small way," she says. "I'll take a bit of Tony over no Tony at all." 

Despite some awkwardness, sharing a pet after a break-up can make a break-up easier. Pets can act as a voluntary bond between couples who are friends, after all. But pets are unlike children, which are unfortunately mandatory. So maybe you'll never see your own Chicken Wing again. Some couples want a clean split, and the loss of a loved pet can hurt more than the loss of a partner. 

"I think if you want a pet in a relationship, and you have any doubts," says MacLean, "get a cat."



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