Thursday, October 31, 2013
And Now For The Really Important Question—Who Gets the Dog?
Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk, portraying Marshall Eriksen’s former boss on How I Met Your Mother, barely holds back tears when grappling with this issue. “Darlene was a great girl. I trusted her," he claims. "Then she took everything – my house, my car, my dog, Tugboat…I watched as Darlene took everything out of my life like a deranged surgeon hacking out organs.”
Odenkirk’s concerns were similar to my own when it came to my beloved dog, Oliver. Who would get him?
A few years before my separation, we had purchased a family dog, a Havanese from Canada. Back then, I was opposed to the idea. Never a dog lover, I was concerned about the additional work involved in owning a pet. After all, I had three kids, a job and a husband to care for so I thought a dog would put me over the edge. After my eldest daughter researched hypoallergenic dogs (my son and ex have strong allergies) and breeders who raised them, she had found the perfect dog for us. As my ex-husband left for Canada to get him, I expressed my wishes. “This is a bad idea, and I want you to know that I am opposed,” I said as he walked out the door. Within a few days after his return, however, I was smitten. Oliver was adorable with his loving lap dog disposition, and ivory coat with ginger patches by his ears (as a redhead, that is the fastest way to my heart). Before I knew it, I had fallen in love with him!
After my husband opted to leave our marriage, I was too overwhelmed by events to even think about Oliver at first. I was primarily focused on tending to the kids. My ex kindly left Oliver with us, and that truly was a blessing. Soon, I realized just how much we all valued him. He is a touchstone for my kids, and they love him deeply. (Later, my ex tried buying a new dog in an effort to make his home more appealing. My daughter told me she thought he was trying to entice my kids to visit there. After a few weeks, he could not take care of the pet, and wound up giving him away. In dog time, he kept up that relationship for 1.8 human years).
Oliver has been a great help to my children during and after my divorce as well. According to Parents.com, 90% of kids live with a pet at some point during childhood, and 4 in 10 kids begin life in a family with domestic animals. There are plenty of reasons why. Pets teach responsibility, empathy, and help kids develop emotionally, cognitively and socially. During divorce, dogs also provide comfort, unconditional love, reduce stress, promote security, encourage nurturing and have even been known to lower blood pressure.
I feel very lucky to have Oliver. He runs to greet me whenever I return home, and often sits on my lap or near to me. He truly defines the term lazy so he requires little work. I love to walk him with my daughter, and we all enjoy caring for him.
I am happy Oliver lives with me, but most importantly, the family dog should remain with the custodial parent so that the children can enjoy him or her most of the time. Kids connect with pets, and learn a great deal from the experience of having one at home. It is just more fun for a child to own a dog, and continuity is vital after parents split. Best of all, whenever my ex husband comes to the door, Oliver barks at him viciously like he is a stranger!
Clip: Skip to the 34 second mark to see the discussion of Tugboat.