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The Dogs of Divorce


December 13, 2015 by Julia

As I mentioned in my last post (far too long ago) I was going through the process of an amicable divorce this summer. One of the biggest and strangest changes to my life after marriage has been shared custody of Dash and Delta and being their “only” caretaker for the time I spend with them.

First, there is the response some people have had when they hear we’re sharing custody “like you do with kids.” In a way, I’m surprised that anyone is surprised. But I forget that not everyone has a relationship with their dogs (or their ex) like ours. The simple fact is that the dogs would be heartbroken if they “lost” one of us and we would be too. He’s a dog lover, I’m a dog person, we’re both deeply attached to both dogs (& they to us) so splitting them up was out of the question. Delta is also very attached to Dash, though I’m not sure he feels the same way.

Boxers Delta and Dash snuggled on the couch

Snuggle the Bubba, whether he likes it or not.

Next, the oddest part of our arrangement is coordinating care (or “canine co-parenting” as my friend called it). We split all agreed upon veterinary costs, which means determining when we both believe a vet visit is necessary or checking in with each other about which tests we want to run at an appointment. We’ve recently started dealing with a new medical challenge for Dash (more on that in a later post) and we’ve had to coordinate on tests, jointly-attended appointments, and will need to continue to collaborate regularly on his care for the foreseeable future.

It gets a bit trickier when the care is related to behavior problems rather than medical ones. They’ve recently started fighting during the Aaron’s weeks. When I say “fight” it’s more like a screaming match that occasionally results in some bloody scratches. The physical damage is minimal to none, but there is definitely fallout when it comes to stress levels and gray hair. The last time they fought, it was literally “over me” and I was able to get a handle on things fairly quickly. Now it’s happening while they are living elsewhere, when I cannot see what’s happening and Aaron has been unable to identify a common trigger. I can ask questions and offer suggestions, but I have no way to really “step in” and manage the issue the way I would have when I lived with them full-time. I suspect he’ll find a way to balance things back out, but it’s hard for me to know there is a problem that I cannot address with them directly.

Lastly, there is the challenge balancing my dog training goals against my limited time with them and my participation in other activities. This fall, while Delta’s Monday Agility class was on hiatus, I signed up for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class with the aim to learn some self defense skills. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the sport and wanted to continue. But BJJ, like dog training, requires a time commitment in order to move forward. I stopped going to BJJ on Mondays to continue with Delta’s agility classes, which includes picking her up on weeks when she’s with Aaron. Dash’s behavior training was scattered to begin with, now it’s even more limited. The pack walks we attend don’t happen every weekend and may not fall on my weeks with him. Add that to the fact that weekends often get booked up by other things (both canine and social), and our participation can be pretty sparse.

I don’t know yet while I’ll do about Delta’s training. When I got her, I planned to dedicate a lot of time and effort to training her to compete in Obedience and Agility. I had some high aspirations about how far I’d take my first “performance puppy.” I’ve already run into challenges given the limited options for that level of Obedience training locally and my Agility training, during the winter months at least, is very limited without an indoor location to practice in beyond class time. Driving to pick her up for classes on Aaron’s weeks is also a bit exhausting and I’m not sure it’s realistic for me long-term.

With Dash, the consolation is that he will be occasionally meeting new people as separate social circles develop for me and Aaron. He’ll be occasionally practicing his skills in real life settings in ways he didn’t when we were together. I finally moved out of the house at the end of September and shortly afterwards Dash was given a chance to meet the ex’s new friend. Aaron told me about their encounter when I stopped by to pick up some things. He was confused when I burst into tears. I was crying because I was so proud of my boy but also a little heartbroken that I wasn’t there when he experienced that success. Since then, I’ve had the chance to see him succeed first-hand and it makes my heart ache with happiness to see him enjoying the affections of a new person.

Even with all the difficulties, there are also benefits to this arrangement. During this time of transition, we humans each spend every other week free of the responsibilities of dog ownership. Since I’m not only their sole caretaker on “my” weeks but also living further from everything, I try to schedule things that will keep me away from the house after work for the “off” weeks. The free time allows both of us more time to explore our new lives, dating, and nurturing new relationships. I feel a little guilty that I’m relieved to have a break every other week, but it’s good for me and I know they are in good hands. After all, you know what they say – If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

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