Who Gets the Pet in a Breakup?

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small dog and couple

Breakups are tough no matter what, but when there are pets involved, it can make it much harder. Nobody likes to imagine that their relationship could end, but when you decide to take on a pet with your significant other, it’s a good idea to plan what would happen to that pet should you break up.

If you’re in the midst of it right now, I’m so sorry. It’s difficult to think clearly, but here are some options to help you figure out your next steps.

Shared Pet Custody

If the split is amicable and both of you would miss your pet too much, this might be the way to go. Come up with a schedule that works for all of you.

Many pets (especially cats) don’t do well with sudden changes and shuttling around between locations, so you might want to consider each partner having the cat for a few weeks at a time rather than changing their residence every week.

Also address whether seeing your ex is good for you. It drags out the healing process and delays closure for quite some time – possibly forever – so be honest about your needs. You also need to plan logistically by asking these questions:

  • Will each of you be able to provide suitable living arrangements for your pet?

  • Will you buy a set of pet supplies for each house or will you tote the supplies back & forth?

  • Will you be able to objectively view how the breakup & moving homes affects your dog or cat?

  • Who will be responsible for veterinary bills &/or the pet insurance policy?

One Person Takes Sole Custody

When one of you is more set up to care for your pet than the other, this is the best option. It’s also the best option if your pet is a flight risk or otherwise sensitive to changes. It would be ideal for the pet to stay in the home they’re used to, but if a change in house is necessary, research how to make moving with your pet as smooth as possible. Keep in mind that the sole pet parent comes with extra responsibilities. You may need to consider sending your dog to daycare or finding a pet-sitter for times you can’t be there.

Rehome or Return Your Pet

This is a worst-case scenario. Your pet loves you, loves their home and routine, and would absolutely miss you if you were to rehome them. But sometimes it has to happen.

A dog we once fostered at our house was adopted by a couple who looked great on paper and totally adored her. Everything went well until they broke up and fought over the dog because neither of them wanted her because she “reminded them of each other.” Poor thing. In that case, as with any of our fosters who don’t work out, she came back to us.

The point is this: if neither of you can keep the pet, find a new home for them. If neither of you want the pet, contact the party from whom you got the pet first. Explain the situation and ask if they would take the pet back. If you keep the pet out of obligation, you could grow to resent your buddy.

Contact friends, family members, acquaintances, and co-workers to see if they’re interested in adopting. Post on social media and neighborhood sites. Make sure you have interested parties fill out an application, agree to a home check, and pay a small re-homing fee (unless your pet is going to a loved one who you know and trust very well). You may be hurting, but that is not your pet’s fault. If you’re in too much distress to do everything to get your pet rehomed, ask someone to help you or do a bit of research on how to properly surrender a pet. Don’t let your pet end up in the wrong hands, and never abandon your pet in an unsafe situation or location.

Don’t Let the Breakup Affect How You Treat Your Pet

Whatever you decide, write it down so you both have a copy to refer to in the form of a hard copy or email. This prevents misunderstandings that could lead to more serious situations (the last thing you want is to have the police called because your ex says it’s their weekend). Keep in mind that you can take your time or change your mind if you need to. This is an emotionally trying time, so you have to be gentle and flexible with yourself – don’t rush into a permanent solution. You can always ask someone to foster or board your pet during the most tumultuous time to keep them safe until you and your ex have clearer minds to figure out what is best.

And, of course, no matter what happens, never take it out on your pet. Love your pet, give them attention, affection, and provide for them. They will most likely be attuned that something bad is happening and may need extra reassurance. They may be unusually attached for awhile. Although you are under extreme duress, stay mindful not to act angry or mean towards them. They’re a great support if you let them be.