Puppy love makes split even harder

Get­ting a pet jointly is now a big step in ad­vanc­ing re­la­tion­ships

Pretoria News Weekend - - NEWS -

‘FANS of Legally Blonde re­mem­ber the scene where Reese Wither­spoon’s char­ac­ter Elle Woods, a Har­vard Law stu­dent, helps re­unite her man­i­curist friend Paulette Be­la­fonte (played by Jen­nifer Coolidge) with her bull­dog, Ru­fus.

Stand­ing at the door of the trailer Paulette and her for­mer hus­band once shared, Elle lec­tures him about com­mon law mar­riage and the eq­ui­table di­vi­sion of the as­sets.

“Huh?” he asks quizzi­cally. “I’m tak­ing the dog, dumba,” Paulette yells as she grabs her beloved pooch and runs for the car.

It’s an iconic mo­ment in rom-com movie his­tory – and one that gets played out in sim­i­lar ways all the time in real life when cou­ples who own a dog to­gether break up.

As cou­ples now tend to put off mar­riage and chil­dren un­til later in life, get­ting a pet to­gether has be­come a big step for many cou­ples look­ing to ad­vance their re­la­tion­ship. “I felt like get­ting a dog to­gether was more solid than a ring,” said Liz Szwe­jbka, a 25-year-old so­cial worker from Buf­falo, New York, of get­ting her dog, Moose, with her boyfriend. “A ring you can take off and give back… Own­ing a dog is a whole dif­fer­ent story.”

Shar­ing a pet to­gether can teach cou­ples a lot about their com­pat­i­bil­ity as fu­ture spouses. “If you have a pet, you’re forced to ne­go­ti­ate more, trust each other more,” psy­chother­a­pist and re­la­tion­ship coun­sel­lor Rachel Dack said. “It’s a great way to gauge your ca­pa­bil­ity as a team.”

But re­la­tion­ship ex­perts warn that it’s im­por­tant to wait un­til your re­la­tion­ship is sure to go the dis­tance be­fore adding a furry fam­ily mem­ber. Pets in­tro­duce time, fi­nan­cial and travel con­straints. Rest­less pup­pies wak­ing you up at all hours of the night, and ex­pen­sive board­ing fa­cil­i­ties and find­ing lit­tle “gifts” on the new car­pet can all cre­ate stress in the re­la­tion­ship, at least tem­po­rar­ily, while you’re ad­just­ing. “If you’re con­cerned about your re­la­tion­ship, speak up about that be­fore you involve a pet,” Dack said.

Even trick­ier than rais­ing a pet to­gether is fig­ur­ing out what to do with it if the re­la­tion­ship ends. Of­ten times, both peo­ple want to keep the pet in their life, but main­tain­ing joint cus­tody post-breakup can be prob­lem­atic. For one, “it drags out con­tact that is not use­ful for the per­son who is strug­gling to move on,” Dack said.

Match­maker and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Exclusive Match­mak­ing Su­san Trom­betti stressed that after a tough sep­a­ra­tion, it’s im­por­tant to let your­self heal. “You need a clean cut un­til you’re over it, so you can’t be shar­ing a dog.”

Who should ul­ti­mately end up with the pet de­pends on who can best care for it. “You have to have the pet’s best in­ter­est at heart,” Trom­betti said.

Mary Fla­herty, a 26-year-old from Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, who works in fi­nance, found her­self left to care for a dog and cat alone after she and her ex broke up. “He said I should take the an­i­mals. He didn’t even of­fer to do any­thing,” she said. “He didn’t want to deal with it.” Ul­ti­mately, she de­cided the an­i­mals would have a bet­ter qual­ity of life liv­ing with her mother.

If nei­ther per­son can pro­vide ad­e­quate care for the an­i­mal alone, some­times giv­ing it up be­comes the only op­tion, as was the case with Chris Michaels. After the 25-year-old truck driver in Bing­ham­ton, New York, parted ways with his girl­friend, their in­di­vid­ual time and fi­nan­cial con­straints be­came an is­sue. “Since she wasn’t able to take care of them and nei­ther am I be­cause of my job, the only op­tion was to sur­ren­der them (to a shel­ter),” he said. “But both have been adopted into lov­ing homes since.”

Ac­cord­ing to Matt Wil­liams, of the Hu­mane Res­cue Alliance, while breakups aren’t the main rea­son peo­ple sur­ren­der pets, it is a contributing fac­tor. When in­di­vid­u­als are hav­ing is­sues tend­ing to a pet alone but don’t want to re­lin­quish them, the shel­ter will work with them to fig­ure out their op­tions and help cre­ate a care plan, he said.

While dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of the re­la­tion­ship fail­ing isn’t any­one’s idea of fun, hav­ing a con­tin­gency plan in place in ad­vance can lessen some of the bur­dens of a breakup, es­pe­cially if it’s a messy one. “A lot peo­ple reach out to me when they have a break-up and a very com­mon, painful di­men­sion in the break-up is ‘But we have this pet to­gether, what do we do’?” said Elis­a­beth LaMotte, a psy­chother­a­pist and founder of DC Coun­selling and Psy­chother­apy Cen­ter.

“I think it’s very im­por­tant to dis­cuss what you would plan to do if the re­la­tion­ship doesn’t last.”

Liz Szwe­jbka’s sis­ter Marissa Szwe­jbka, a 27-year-old spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion teacher who also lives in Buf­falo, re­sorted to tak­ing le­gal ac­tion after a bro­ken en­gage­ment to gain cus­tody of her dog, Char­lie. “The first thing I said was ‘I’m tak­ing the dog’,” she said.

As in Legally Blonde, Marissa Szwe­jbka en­listed the help of a friend who was in law school at the time. “She helped me draft a di­vi­sion of the as­sets which out­lined ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing me keep­ing Char,” she said.

Her for­mer fi­ancé even­tu­ally signed the con­tract and re­lin­quished his rights to the furry as­set. Liz Szwe­jbka joked, “We have said be­fore: if we break up, the vic­tim gets Moose.” – The Wash­ing­ton Post The Wash­ing­ton Post

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