I don't think a week goes by without me hearing the following jab from an otherwise thoughtful friend: "Why do you share custody of the dog? You're divorced. It just doesn't make any sense." My answer, week in and week out, goes like this: "Because it's the right thing to do."
It seems inconceivable to many in our culture that it is possible to remain somewhat civil after a divorce. All you have to do is take a look at most Hollywood divorces, and most divorces in general, to see that divorce is hell. I suppose common wisdom and practice dictate that divorce is war. So much is on the line.
But what about the pets? Particularly, dogs? Is it really fair to a faithful dog to automatically lose the love and presence of one of their human parents just because the parents choose to divorce? Think about it. And when you think about the alleged absurdity of sharing custody of a dog, contemplate the damage that is done to children when parents and the adversarial family court system partner up for perpetual war. The madness must stop.
So much good is possible after a divorce, if even before the divorce takes place, there is an agreement about the pets. I feel blessed to have had a wonderful shepherd mix brought into my life. My ex-wife actually had Jessie for two years prior to us even meeting. I immediately bonded with this sweet dog. I live much closer to my job than she does, so it was decided I would have her during the week, but on many weekends, she would have her. Yes, sharing custody of the dog.
I cannot wipe out reality and pretend that Jessie does not still love the person who picked her out of a pound. That is, my ex-wife. I see it with my own eyes, and I see how they both are happy together. Would it not be cruel to destroy their relationship just because there was a divorce? Is there not a way to share the dog? Jessie is, after all, a furry friend who brings much joy to all who encounter her. Despite a divorce between humans, and when it is feasible, pets must not be viewed as mere property that either a divorcing wife or husband can never ever see again.
Truth is, the divorce rate in our country is still high. Couple this with the reality that humans spend millions and millions of dollars every year on their pets. Just imagine for a moment how many dogs and their human parents are heart broken after a divorce. They no longer see each other because perhaps one of the other parents is playing keep away, or maybe because the needs of the dog were not even discussed. The dog, like many children of divorce, are too often used as pawns and taken for granted.
It doesn't have to be this way. We need to be honest and admit we love our pets, and they love us in return. With human communication as a first line of defense, pets wind up OK after a divorce. They can either stay where they are and one their other parents gets to see them often, or they actually go live in an equally loving new home with the other parent, but return often to their other home. All the details about transportation, food, vet bills, and everything else can get worked out. I mean, why not? Doing the right thing as a divorced parent may seem emotionally taxing at times, but when you do the right thing, either a child or pet stays in good health.
Again, turn on the television or open up the entertainment section of a newspaper. All the rage is who is getting a divorce, and what happens to the child at hand. Witness the Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger divorce. Perhaps this is a wake up call to the country about what happens when parents get angry and/or play keep away with children. There are always negative consequences. And believe it or not, there should always be an opportunity to finally get it straight. That is, divorced parents have the ability to rise up beyond their contempt for each other in order to properly raise their children. The years have an awful way of slipping by.
Yes, divorce is an unfortunate reality. Sometimes it just must happen. Don't forget about the other reality that won't go away. These days, we are spending a lot of time with our pets. We view dogs - and cats - like members of our family. We do this because they, well, are. This won't change. The bond between humans and pets is undeniably strong as steel. It's equally sweet as honey.
So, despite what my friend thinks, I will always believe that "sharing custody of the dog" is the right thing to do. Jessie, and all pets of divorce, really deserve no less. They expect to be treated with respect, no matter what their human parents no longer feel for each other. In the end, it just feels good to do right.
And thinking about the real feelings of your furry friends after a divorce can never be - wrong.
Tony Zizza is a free-lance writer who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He writes frequently about popular culture and pets. Reach Zizza via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.