So you met ~The One~. You fell hard in love, everything was sunshine and rainbows and long walks in the park/beers at sunset. Somewhere along the line you decided to cement your undying love with a fur-baby. I mean, this relationship’s gonna be forever right?
Except sadly, for whatever reason shit just didn’t work out. You and your partner split, maybe amicably, maybe the whole thing went up in an absolute bonfire. Either way, you’ve now got a pet you both can claim ownership of – and you’ve gotta figure out what to do with it.
Pet custody is never easy. It’s bound to bring heartbreak cos it’s being borne out of a heartbreaking situation. We asked a bunch of folks who’ve lived through the mess and come out the other side for their top advice on navigating pet custody through a breakup.
If you both love the pet, honestly question whether it’s the type of pet that can be ferried between your new homes post-breakup. Is it a nervous dog that needs the stability of the same surroundings? A rabbit in a hutch that’s hard to move? Don’t inflict unnecessary trauma on your pet – even if you love it to pieces, it’s kind and selfless to give it a good, happy life rather than put it through a rigmarole that’ll leave it a mess.
“I found my cat Ninja as a kitten in the neighbourhood, but I raised him with my ex-boyfriend. When we eventually split up, it was decided that he keep Ninja because I lived at home, and my sister is severely allergic to cat hair. It made it easier in a sense, but I was still completely devastated. I have had to pretend to myself he died just to get over it.” Lisa, 31, Sydney
Is your ex being a piece of shit from the depths of hell about everything? A tiny baby whinging tantrum machine, perhaps? If they won’t step up and co-parent your pet, be the bigger guy/girl and keep it. Pets should never be an option – they’re a commitment you both made and the right thing to do is give it a home. If you can’t do that for whatever (real, genuine) reason, ensure it gets re-homed safely.
“I owned two Great Danes and a cat with my ex. When we split, he pretty much said he would take the dogs to the pound because he wasn’t interested in helping out with them at all, and he didn’t think it was fair for me to look after them myself. But I kept them, and I’ve learned to manage with the pups and they have a good life.” Georgie, 25, Sydney
SET UP A SCHEDULE
Co-parenting a pet can absolutely work, but you’ll need some ground rules in place (kinda like a proper kid, but you already knew that cos PETS ARE KIDS RIGHT). Think about what could get messy – do you make a shared kitty for cash that’s only used on the pet? Set bank transfer rules on vet bills? Have specific days or weeks that the pet swaps houses? Having this stuff set from the outset will save you both a world of pain and drama down the track.
“When my ex-boyfriend and I broke up around two-ish years ago, there was never any real discussion of “who was taking the dog”, it was just kinda assumed we’d share him and see how it went. It was tricky but it worked because my ex works shift work (four days on, five days off) so navigating the sharing of the dog was easy, he takes him when he’s not working, I get him when he is. We have formed a really lovely friendship over the dog now – we send each other photos of him, laugh about dumb shit he does, take him to the park together and share the astronomical vet bills. Over time, it’s become really lovely.” Noelle, 32, Sydney
BE PREPARED TO BE CIVIL, EVEN WHEN IT SUCKS
Easily the shittiest part of having to share a pet with an ex is having to stay in contact when you’d ideally like to catapult the fucker into the sun. If you’ve had an amicable break-up, this part isn’t necessarily any less painful – you still most likely want distance from your ex, and you won’t be getting it when you’re dealing with a co-parented pet.
The best plan of action is to keep things civil, at the very least. Put aside all the shit when you talk about your pet, otherwise you’ll just end up in screaming matches or crumpled in tears.
“My ex bought me two turtles while we were together as a birthday present, and we also bought a cat. When we broke up I ended up keeping them all. But with the turtles, I had to stay on kind of amicable terms with him, because I had no idea how to clean the filter and shit. So I’d just call him every month or so if I had questions about their wellbeing until I learnt for myself. It was definitely hard though, because you hate the person but for the animals sake you’re like ‘OK, I’d better stay okay with him because he knows everything about the turtles’.” Annabelle, 25, Merimbula.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, PUT THE PET FIRST
Like real, human kids, your pet did nothing to deserve any shitty experiences off the back of your break up. So try and make their life as fantastic as poss, even when you and your ex are literally crumbling into pieces. Make sure they have a nice home, even if it’s a temporary one at a friends place, cover the vet bills even if your ex is being a dick and won’t split the costs. Just be a good pet parent, ok?
“My ex and were together for 11 years. We adopted two cats over that time, and we both sort of had “our” cat – the one that we bonded with most. When we broke up, I moved out of our house in Brisbane to Sydney and decided to leave Tippi there until I was set up enough to bring her down. Essentially both of us really have in mind first and foremost what is best for our animals, not ourselves. So my ex could have fought me on it, but she knows how much Tippi loves me. And I could have taken her before now, but it would have been uprooting her for me, not doing what was best for her.” Bec, 34, Sydney.