|Animals can be negatively impacted by relationship breakdown.|
What happens to pets when their owners (or guardians, or stewards as some may prefer) split up? Everything changes – from their environment to who they spend time with to their normal routine.
According to Kate Mornement from Pets Behaving Badly, some develop separation anxiety, as discussed in this interview.
Data from RSPCA QLD found that 11 per cent of dogs surrendered were given up because of “a relationship split, change of household dynamic and personal reasons or change in circumstance”. That’s a fairly broad category, but it seems unjust that an animal may be surrendered to a shelter when they had nothing to do with the parting of ways of their primary carers.
It doesn't always end that way. Sometimes an animal is much more bonded to one party in the relationship, and then its an easy decision.
I have met a number of clients who have entered into prolonged shared custody arrangements – one couple who split up over a decade ago but have shared custody of their dog, including alternating who brings the dog to the vet. The dog is clearly a winner here – he gets to enjoy two houses, he’s quite settled into his two different routines and he has the run of a wider variety of dog parks than he would have otherwise.
It’s an arrangement that doesn’t work so well with cats, largely because cats are territorial and tend to become very anxious if subjected to too many environmental changes.
In Australian courts, pets are regarded as property, which can lead to them being used as pawns in ugly legal battles.
As stated in the ABC article, it’s worth exploring what the animal wants in such cases. We can’t ask them which party they want to live with directly, but we can observe their behaviour, consider their environmental preferences and what each owner can offer, and try to establish where the animal will enjoy the best quality of life.