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Dogs of Divorce: 50% Custody, 50% Guilt


June 3, 2016 by Julia

At the end of my initial Dogs of Divorce post, I mentioned feeling badly that I was enjoying some of my “dog-free” time. I knew it would be tough for me to only have the dogs part-time but I didn’t expect so much guilt. You would think having them half-time would help but it only spread the guilt in two directions – I’m not doing enough with them when they are here and I’m enjoying it too much when they are away.

I was once told that if you hear yourself saying “should/shouldn’t” or “supposed to/not supposed to” that means you’re feeling guilty. I’m noticing a lot of that in my life and my vocabulary these days.

When I have the dogs, I feel guilty because I should be doing more. Now, granted, there are some limitations that I can’t help – I broke my leg at the end of January and I’m still working hard to get back flexibility and strength. I won’t be able to run with Delta until the end of summer. Still, the days that I don’t do something fun with them or nights that I don’t let them join me in bed weigh on me. I only have them half of the time, I should be making the most of it.

Boxers snuggling Dave's legs.

Weekend dogpiles are a must.

I shouldn’t enjoy my dog-free time so much (see how I phrased that? “dog-free” not “dog-less”). For many years now, I’ve defined myself as a “Dog Person” – how can someone like me enjoy spending half my time sans canine? I’ve noticed myself feeling a certain amount of happy relief when:

  • I can wear clothes that look neat without having to be careful about getting dog hair on them.
  • I can leave food on the counter without the risk Delta stealing it.
  • I can sleep in and get home late without depriving anyone of timely potty breaks.
  • I can spend whole days or even take overnight trips without making any special arrangements.

I’m sure most Dog People can see the appeal of all of those. They aren’t unreasonable things to enjoy. But I feel like I’m enjoying them a little too much. I find myself thinking “Shit, what happens when I get my next dog and I have to take care of them ALL the time??” The idea of going back to a life that is constrained by full-time dog ownership isn’t appealing. I find myself listing off all the things that would be more difficult for me rather than dreaming of puppy breath and new training adventures.

We typically swap the dogs on Sunday so whoever is dog-free gets a full weekend. We started out with a midday swap but I suggested we switch to evenings because the midday time was awkward. I wanted a more complete free weekend, not a Sunday chopped in half. And there’s another thing I shouldn’t want more weekend, more time of my free time to myself – because that means I want more time away from them.

When the time comes to pick up my pups at the end of a dog-free week, it feels like being pulled into a different life. My dog weeks are spent at my parent’s house and they help out with the pups, but I still feel obligated or guilty around my comings and goings. The fact that the house is in New Gloucester doesn’t help. I’m automatically a good chunk further away from Portland – where work, Dave, and fun activities all reside – than I want to be. I rush to keep my after-work errands brief so I’m home in a timely manner and I avoid making evening plans at all – besides shorting the dogs on time, who wants to drive all the way back to Portland on a weekday? And with so little time at home on the weeknights, I should be doing more with them.

Delta the Boxer burrows under the blanket

Delta thinks I should be doing a better job at keeping her warm.

This change in my life and in my focus is like having an identity crisis. This time last year, dog training was a haven for me. I was mid-divorce and we’d only recently made it public. I lived in a central location where I could easily get to all the local dog events I wanted to attend. I was a trainer for my local obedience club, enjoying the challenge of a new set of dogs every 2 months. Dog crazy people made up the majority of my social circles and most of my scheduling centered around what classes or seminars I could attend. After years that revolved around dogs and dog events, I’ve disconnected and I’m having a hard time imagining myself back in that world, in that life, the way I was before.

Delta the Boxer looking intently out the window

Between those crazy ears is a mind with crazy potential.

Between partial custody and class availability, I haven’t been to class with Delta in ages. I was inconsistent with practicing when I had her full-time, I’m not sure I can get it together to make substantial progress when I’ve got her half-time. The doodling we do is fun and I can see ways that she’s matured… I can see all this amazing potential that she has… but I can’t see what our path forward should be.

I haven’t been able to get back to weight pull or pack walks with Dash. I don’t think he can do the pack walks now – he’s tired and dragging his right foot after 15 minutes (update 6/4/16: we went on a pack walk! He was happy and did the whole hour though his right rear toenails took a beating). I’ve signed him up for one “last hurrah” weight pull practice on June 18th but I’m worried we won’t get there before his back legs become an issue. Soon enough, he’ll be pulling a cart for a completely different reason. Which just leads to another surge of guilt – his body is failing and I’m not making the most of every moment. The rough draft of his book isn’t written, I don’t always remember to do his PT exercises, I can’t bring him to the rehab vet because of distance and schedules. All of these things should be done… but they aren’t.

Scuffs in the gravel from Dash's foot dragging

Where am I going with this? Honestly, I’m not sure. And that’s kind of the point. I’m adrift and thinking of all the things that should be… I have no idea what will be. Many of my life changes in the past year have been positive and have created an obvious path for me to follow. But this change? Much like the change in Dash’s stride, it’s been hard to absorb. And while it isn’t nearly as dark as the struggle we face with his disease, the road ahead is as uncertain. I can only hope that – in both cases – when the time is right, the way forward will be clear.

1 comment »

  1. […] My leg has kept me from my usual athletic outlets of running and Jiu Jitsu. My split custody of the dogs and lack of focus has limited my time spent on dog training. I was damned near a year into living […]

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