Sharing a Pet Post-Breakup Rarely Works

If you’re going to get a pet with your significant other (SO), you better be serious about your relationship.

While it may sound like a great idea in theory – and we’ve all heard from former couples who it miraculously works well for – sharing a pet post-breakup isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, especially if feelings linger on either side.

Breakups suck for the best of us; saying goodbye to a pet only compounds the heartbreak. I get it. But sharing it usually (keyword: usually) never works out – at least not in the long run. Sure, in the first few months post-breakup, it may make sense to shuttle an animal back and forth or to organize visits to slow the burn for both you and the pet. But to commit to a lasting joint custody situation is hardly sustainable.

It means that the lines of communication are kept open between the two ex-lovers, potentially for a good decade. While this may sound simple if the two of you are currently friends, consider the impact it could have on future situations – including on new relationships. Pictures on social media of an ex’s new SO with your dog or cat can be hard to stomach. Not to mention, he or she may not exactly feel thrilled at the situation. Another issue is that, if one person still has feelings – and ones that are difficult to get over thanks to the constant contact – they may jump on the chance to see the animal more than they should as an excuse to see their former partner. And if the other person doesn’t entertain this, the animal may be used against them. That’s when things get ugly.

Case-in-point: an ex-boyfriend who had been married for a few years prior to meeting me and was recently(ish) separated. At the time we met, he was grieving parting ways with his beloved rescue dog more so than he was the demise of his relationship. And I saw the bad and ugly that can come when there is a pet in the middle of a dramatic split. The issue was that she would hold the dog over his head when she was feeling particularly scorned, lonely, or angry at him. In each emotionally charged email, she would inevitably mention how he “abandoned” the “poor” dog, knowing the beloved animal was a particular sore spot with him. Yet, she used the dog to make him feel like garbage, even going so far as to send him a sad Father’s Day email – almost a year after their breakup – that was written: “from the dog.” And no, there was nothing cute about it.

The reality is, he made the best decision for the dog in giving him to her. After all, it’s probably not a good idea to come in and out of an animal’s life, especially a rescue dog that has already been through a lot and could be overcoming abandonment issues. “It was really hard to say goodbye to my dog when I ended my last relationship, but I knew that it was for the best interest of the dog in the long-run,” said Sarah, 33, from Toronto. “Sporadic visits would only confuse him, and I knew sharing ‘custody’ wouldn’t work once we both fully moved on with our lives.”

The demise of some relationships can be so destructive and dramatic that the only solution is a clean break; meaning, no communication. Of course, this situation usually leaves the sharing of the pet off the table. Sometimes, the hardest choice is who will keep the pet.

If you’re not sure who should take the dog, there are a few things to consider. First of all, who is the one leaving the home? It may make sense to keep the animal where it is. Naturally, lifestyles also come into play, and – ideally – the animal should go to the person who has the most time and best resources to care for the pet. Remember, caring for a dog alone is a whole different story than sharing one – and all the responsibilities – with your SO.

At the end of the day, the mature (but not always the easiest) thing to do is put the pet ahead of any lingering animosity, anger, and pain between the two of you. After all, they did nothing to contribute to your newfound “single” status.