DIVORCE and PET “JOINT CUSTODY”
Because I do extensive legal and forensic work (mostly but not exclusively in dog bite cases, I’ve been contacted several times regarding the issue of a separating or divorcing couple proposing or demanding “joint custody” of their dog. If you consider this from the point of view of what’s best for the dog, as I must, the concept of sharing “joint custody” is absurd and incredibly destructive.
Sometimes the splitting couple are two people who truly love and value the dog equally, and neither is willing or emotionally prepared to give it up totally to the other. After all, some splits take one or both partners by surprise, and it’s always very emotionally upsetting to go through divorce. At such times, the dog may be the strongest emotional and psychological ally upon which one or both parties rely to get them through the distress. This is especially relevant if one or both people suffered severe stress before and the dog was a strong support to them then.
Sometimes the demand is made by a person who cares little or nothing for the dog, may in fact be glad to be rid of it, but use their “custody rights” to hurt their former partner by depriving them of a highly valued companion for whatever time they can. I’ve seen cases where the less-caring person used their time with the dog to actually train the dog to do what their former partner hates, like jumping on people or furniture, barking excessively or soiling indoors. Few people know what you hate more than a former spouse! And few dogs will be as responsive to your demands as YOURS!
Sometimes the dog is more affection bonded with one person but more secure and confident when with the other. Many dogs may prefer the wife for affection and petting but feel more secure with the husband, perceived as the “stronger” true pack Alpha. This further complicates deciding who should get he dog exclusively or more because the dog seems happier when with one person but calmer, more serene and “better off” when with the other.
In the name of fairness, unwitting attorneys may demand equal dog time for their client not knowing the client is negatively motivated and such an event will hurt the dog and the other party. In this case, by demanding equal dog time, the law and the attorney contribute to an annoying inconvenience for the “winning” partner by making them care for a dog they don’t want, stressing the person who must place their beloved dog with a known uncaring person, and upsetting the dog substantially by forcing it to spend time in an uncaring home & be separated from its most strongly bonded person. This is a lose-lose-lose situation; nothing and no one wins except perhaps the attorneys who are now erroneously satisfied that they did things “equally and fairly.”
Shared joint custody is very stressing to the dog even when agreed upon by all humans. Since one person moves away, when is the dog on its defendable “home turf,” when it’s in the familiar house with the former wife or when it’s in a new environment with the old husband? Which is it supposed to protect as its home territory? When it’s with the wife in its familiar home, is it supposed to accept all strange men who enter or challenge them in Alpha’s absence? If “mom” has playful or serious words with a new man, is the dog supposed to protect her from him? If not, the dog is very confused and stressed and loses its value in a real attack. If so, what to do when the new man reprimands the dog for threatening him? Whose side does SHE take, her dog’s or her lover’s and potential new husband? When with the old husband, it is supposed to welcome and obey a strange alpha bitch, his new girlfriend?
If children are involved, the dog’s confusion and stress increase tremendously. Is the dog supposed to welcome or challenge its former alpha male when he now visits to see the kids? If mom forms a strong new relationship, does that change the dog’s job when the “old dad” returns? How does the dog appropriately challenge its old Alpha when in one home but protect the same person when in his new home and vehicle? To make this worse for the dog, mom is seldom pleased when “old dad” shows up, even for a temporary visit. The dog now learns that the arrival of its former alpha male distresses the alpha bitch and the pack. Yet it smells his scent everywhere in its familiar home. If the new male is present, is the dog to defend the visiting old master or side with the new one? This entire scenario stresses HUMANS to the point of medication, and children even more so. Imagine what it does to the DOG!
Commonly the departed person will get their own dog later. Now the dog that has known this person as a trusted and bonded pack member or even leader is intruding on another dog’s territory every time it visits. If there is friction between the dogs, the first one is usually the one that gets punished because the owner is trying to form a firm, lasting bond with the new dog. So, to the old dog, is the new one a welcome visitor or bold intruder? This may happen with multiple dogs in the new home. And just TRY to get it to be good with the new female’s cat! And what’s it supposed to do about the new partner’s kids or a child the new couple has?
All this is confusing enough for the dog but gets exponentially worse when the dog will be put in these different and unsettled conditions over and over for the rest of its life.
If ANYONE involved in the divorce truly cares about the dog, attorneys included, they should decide to reach a firm conclusion on who gets it permanently, totally, full time, from now on. Split, shared or joint dog custody is absurd. It perniciously hurts many innocents with no benefit except to the most wicked. Avoid it.
This applies equally to cats. If you have a cat equally bonded to both owners, two cats strongly bonded to each other, or a dog & a cat with a strong bond between them, or any number or combinations of strongly bonded dog & cats, MAKE THE BREAK QUICK & PERMANENT. You're doing all of them a destructive cruelty to allow people or pets to "visit". DON'T DO IT. MAKE THE BREAK TOTAL, ONCE, END IT & GET ON WITH LIFE. It's the most gentle, loving gift you can give your beloved, bonded companion animals when you split.
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