Getting a dog as a couple can be a really exciting moment in a relationship. You get to go on dog park dates, have a third couch-cuddling companion, and a semi-legitimate excuse for canceling plans last minute. Life couldn't be better! But in the event of a breakup, giving up or keeping your beloved pup only fuels more heartbreak. Whether you parent a puppy all on your own or push yourself to finally delete all the dog selfies from your phone, there's a chance to grow from the experience. Here, four women reflect on their breakups when a shared pet was in the mix:
“My boyfriend and I at the time adopted an adorable two-month old Jack Russell Terrier-mix. At that point we had been together for only about a year – safe to say it was way too early to take on what is basically having a child together. I ended up keeping the dog after the breakup – he was actually a birthday gift from my boyfriend, so he was always technically mine. Being the sole caretaker was definitely the biggest adjustment – I knew I was responsible before, but this totally turned it around for me.
Once, we actually had a ‘visit’ with my ex. I needed to drop something off that he had left behind at our old place, and offered to bring the dog so he could see him. He was so excited to see my ex, and vice versa. It was tough to realize that without this failed relationship, I wouldn’t have my dog. I guess if you can walk away with at least something positive out of the relationship, it’s not the worst thing in the world. My take-away just so happened to have four legs, a tail, and a surplus of love.
Whenever I have new guys over to my place for the first time, and they meet my dog, sometimes they ask how I got him. Just last week, I mistakenly mentioned that he was a gift. He asked who it was from, and I was so nervous to get into it, I just said 'Oh, a friend.' I’m sure he didn’t buy it, but I definitely wasn’t ready to tell the whole story of my ex."
“My ex and I had gotten a golden retriever together shortly after deciding to move in together. Sadly, things started to go south fairly quickly after that. The breakup wasn't necessarily delayed because of our dog, but totally cutting the cord was made a bit more difficult because of her. We ended up sharing custody for about a year and a half after the breakup. She would spend 3-4 months with my ex and then 3-4 months with me. It was definitely hard doing the pick-ups and drop-offs at first, but it got easier with time. We both love our pup and neither one of us wanted to keep her from the other because of that.
My ex eventually ended up moving and his new place wasn't dog-friendly, so I got full custody of her at that point. It gets tough with an older dog who starts having more regular health issues – I have to deal with the stress of vet visits on my own. But while being the sole caretaker has had its difficulties, I wouldn't change it for the world. And I still make sure to send my ex a Facebook message from our pup each year on his birthday just so he knows if he ever wants to see her, that door is always open.”
“My ex and I had been together for about six years and had just purchased a house, so the logical next step was to get a puppy. We adopted a rambunctious Husky-mix and you could say it was less than smooth-sailing. Turns out, we had a lot of deeper issues than who was going to clean up after a puppy, so about four months into having the dog we broke up and I moved out. At the time, I was moving back to my parents' so I couldn't take her with me, which was heartbreaking. One time, my ex decided to tell me that [the dog] would stare at our bedroom door that led upstairs and would cry because she was waiting for me to come down and I never did.
We tried the occasional co-parenting, joint-custody thing, but since I still had feelings, I would jump at the chance way more than I should have to come over and watch her when he worked late. Or I'd take her on the weekends when he had plans. A lot of the time involved being back at my old house, which had way too many memories for me to handle emotionally.
After about six months, I decided to cut off with him completely, ending that part of my life and, ultimately, the connection with our dog. One of the hardest things for me was seeing life move on over social media: other girls in his life claiming it was ‘their’ dog, posting snuggly photos with the fluff-ball I picked out for our little family. Sometimes I think I made the wrong choice, but honestly it helped me move on.”
“My ex and I had had two Lab-mixes together, both of whom I kept after we divorced. Their well-being was something I considered and really felt wrecked over for a long time, thinking about how much they would miss him. I cried in a closet once and promised my dogs one day they'd have another, better dad in their lives. There was some discussion of maybe trying to split up the dogs and do a his and hers situation, but I ended up feeling really strongly that the dogs needed to stay together. It's actually written into our divorce agreement that he has the ‘right of first refusal,’ meaning that if at any point I were to need to get rid of my dogs, I'm legally obligated to ask him to adopt them first before I can give them to anyone else. I can't fathom a situation when we'd do that.
Keeping the dogs on my own was a really big adjustment. They’re pretty big, so even just physically caring for them alone was harder. I bought a house a year later in part to make things easier for my quality of life with my pets – they have an enormous yard now where they can run.
A few months ago, after I broke up with my post-divorce boyfriend – another moment of ‘oh my god my poor dogs are dad-less again’ – my ex-husband texted me asking if he could have our dogs, or one of them at least. I said something along the lines of 'I'm keeping both of the dogs, thank you for checking' and he basically responded with a 'roger that.' My dogs are my children and it would be awful to be without them. I would never, ever give them up.”