Who gets custody of the pets?

by Kitty Walker, LMSW-ACP

Dear Kitty,

My boyfriend and I have two Pugs; Angus & Ryker. We adopted them jointly 2 years ago. Recently, my boyfriend and I have not been getting along. I know we won't be staying together much longer. I know there is a good chance that I will never see my Angus or Ryker again. I just don't know how to deal with this, how to say goodbye to my babies, how to go on each day without pouring their food or taking them for walks. How do I leave them? Honestly, I know they will be loved, and in good caring hands. But, how do I accept that those hands won't be mine?

Shari

Dear Shari,

I am very sorry that things are not working out in your relationship, and I hate that it means you will have to say goodbye to the dogs you own jointly.

I guess that first I want to ask if it really has to be that way. I have known couples in a similar circumstance who made allowances for both to continue to see the animals, despite one having "primary custody." Visitation, on a periodic basis, can be a very meaningful endeavor for both human and animal.

If, for whatever reason, that is not possible, you will definitely be in for a grieving process. I am glad that you know that they will be "in good caring hands," as that could otherwise be a source of great anxiety and pain.

I recommend that you have a special time set aside just to say good-bye to them. Perhaps it can be the last thing you do before leaving the household. Engage both of them in some kind of routine activity that you have enjoyed together, such as a walk around the block or a game of Fetch. If you have a habit of being vocal with them, you can tell each of them what they have meant to you, and how sad you are to have to leave them.

After you have done the physical leaving, try to set up some time to talk to someone who understands your bond to them. Take every opportunity to express your feelings of loss, verbally and in writing. The stages of grieving: shock, anger, denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance don't occur in the same order or same intensity with everyone, but the acceptance stage is usually after all the others. In other words, it could take a while to reach.

Be gentle with yourself and allow your grieving to unfold.

My Best,

Kitty


Ask Kitty is a psychotherapist specializing in grief and loss issues which humans encounter when their pets die. She has worked in this area for a number of years, providing counseling to people at this special time of need. She also provides consultation and education to employees of veterinary clinics in her area.

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