The tension starts with something simple—maybe a dirty dish in the sink or a wet towel left on the floor. Then money issues start to creep up. How much can we spend? What can we spend it on? Just one too many visits from the in-laws, and it’s all down hill from there. Your marriage can quickly enter a tailspin from which it cannot recover, and the next thing you know you are filing for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.”
This is not uncommon. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics around 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce. Once lawyers get involved, it can get messy. Property and money are divided up, and custody of the children is hashed out. But often there is another life involved: The future of the furry, four-legged dependent must also be decided.
Pet behavior expert Steven May and family law attorney David Pisarra have each gone through the ordeal of breaking up with a spouse with whom they had a pet. As they began to talk more about their experiences, it became clear this was a subject that needed to be tackled.
Dealing with pet custody after a breakup happens everyday, but is rarely discussed. May and Pisarra’s book, What About Wally: Co-Parenting a Pet with your Ex, hit bookshelves last year—it offers a heartfelt approach to a situation that a lot of people can relate to.
The book begins with the stories of May’s and Pisarra’s divorces and how they amicably worked with their respective exes on how to h andle their dogs. Also included are editorial pieces from each of their former spouses, so you get more than one point of view. “Even though we were going through a lot of emotional hurdles in our breakup,” Pisarra recalls, “We handled the dog well because we knew the other side cared about the animal—you really have to keep that in mind.”
However, both men admit keeping the animal’s best interest in mind can be very difficult in the beginning, ironically for the very same reason: How much the pet means to both people. “You get a new pup, and it [ brings] a new and different angle to the relationship,” May points out. “When separation does occur, there is anger in the realization that someone may not have a pet anymore.”
Next: Tips for pet parenting after a breakup