Abandoned pets is one of the many sad outcomes of divorce. Marital problems, conflict and ultimately divorce is behind a significant number of pet turn-ins for animal shelters every year.
Often one spouse doesn’t want to take the dog or cat while the other can’t keep them due to downsizing or reduced income. Many rental apartments won’t take pets over twenty pounds or allow more than one animal per unit.
Sometimes couples will fight over dogs and cats as well as other pets and bring the conflict into mediation or attorney negotiations with as much emotion as their battles over child custody. However, in most states pets are still considered property, much like a car or antique furniture. The emotional connection to the family is not a factor in determining pet custody or relevance.
Frequently the divorcing couple doesn’t want to give up the pet, but circumstances just get in the way. And it’s especially heartbreaking when children are involved. Children are very attached to their pets. Losing a beloved friend and companion at a time when their world is in emotional disarray can take its toll on kids of all ages, including teens. If at all possible, parents should try to keep the family pet in the family because the child-pet relationship can be a trusted source of unconditional love and security when the child really needs it.
Shelter workers report the sad outcomes when pets are used as pawns in a divorce, just as when children are exploited in the same way. Some angry spouses will give the animal to a shelter just to spite and hurt their soon-to-be Ex. Others may use the pet as a source of battle, knowing the bond gives one spouse leverage over the other in negotiating terms of the divorce. Veterinarians and animal shelters around the world see this on a routine basis, knowing the heart-breaking consequences for the animals involved.
Some couples will arrange for pet visits and some will agree to share costs of pet care following the divorce. But too frequently animals are abandoned at shelters, dropped off in the heat of an argument, and left to an uncertain future.
We encourage pet owners who are facing divorce to work together in doing what’s best for their pet, just as they try to do for their children. Take into consideration that pets are therapeutic assets to our lives and can be especially helpful for adults as well as children when going through the challenges related to divorce. Make responsible, compassionate decisions, knowing that your pets are attached to you just as you are to them. Abandoning your pet takes a heavy emotional toll on these innocent beings – just as your veterinarian!