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How Do You Deal When Your Dog Has a Step-Parent?

The day I smelled the new woman’s perfume as I bent down to kiss my dog’s head after a visit with his other parent, I had no idea how to react.

 |  Dec 20th 2013  |   6 Contributions


I love my ex. I really do. No, we’re not in love anymore -- it’s been over for more than three years -- but we are still each other’s family. In times of need, we would both drop everything for one another. Though our breakup wasn’t without pain, the foundation of mutual love and respect was there. Jordan and I still share our greatest joys and sorrows with one another. And we share our dog.

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Me and our beloved Governor Monkey.

You hear nightmare stories of doggie-parents breaking up and suing one another for custody. You hear about one person keeping the dog the other loved so much, without allowing the ex-partner to see the dog again. Even worse, you hear of dogs abandoned to shelters because no amicable agreement can be made with regard to their care. I became so aware of the need for shared-custody arrangements for broken-up couples that my pet care company even offers pet taxi service between former couples who share custody of their dog but do not wish to interact.

But Jordan and I were in the small category of relationships that end with both of us knowing a shared custody arrangement had to happen -- for our sakes and for Governor Monkey’s, our then-two-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie mix. Our commitment to passing our boy between us so that he still got in all of his hikes, road trips, and farmer-direct specialty food pick-ups meant that, in spite of our love mistakes, our innocent pup could go on with his life without too much stressful interruption.

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Governor Monkey, learning to go off-leash.

Nonetheless, the day I smelled the new woman’s perfume as I bent down to kiss my dog’s head after a visit with his other parent, I had no idea how to react. While we were both aware that we were seeing other people, it was still jarring.

Right there, literally in my face, was proof: My dog might have a stepmom.

Now, those of you with human children might think this entire line of thinking is ridiculous. You might wonder why someone else in my dog’s life would even matter. After all, he’s a social pooch -- the more the merrier, right? But I do not have human children; my pets -- three of whom began their lives with Jordan and me as their parents -- are my babies. I spend heaps of time training my animals, worrying about them, making their food, and understanding what every single facial twitch means.

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Governor watching me garden.

When sharing human children, it is probably perfectly logical and acceptable to have rules you wish to lay out with your ex about what your kids are and are not allowed to do with them (and a potential new beau). Said list might not seem obsessive and crazy. Yet if I typed out a list of all of the vocab Gov knows, the difference between “leave it” and “drop it,” and that, in my ardent commitment to positive-reinforcement training, I never say “no” to him, only “oops,” will I even be taken seriously? Is my ex going to even carry this list? Would my ex ever admit dating such a Crazy Dog Lady to a new love interest?

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My ex with Gov, having a good time.

When I allow jealousy and fear to enter the picture, I begin to let my imagination run wild. I picture Governor Monkey going unmonitored around another woman’s children and biting them when they touch his dysplasic hips. I picture her saying, “Well, it’s not my dog,” and feeding him from the table. I picture him curling up at night in another woman’s bed, and it makes me just feel, well, icky. I create scenarios and stories about everything she is doing to undermine my hard work with my baby boy.

I used to feel guilty when the boyfriend I had post-Jordan would walk Governor -- that, in some way, it was unfair to Jordan. Or worse, that Jordan would see our dog out, having a good time with Joe, and feel that same pang I felt when I smelled that unfamiliar perfume on Gov’s head. But then I realized that anyone who is going to be a part of my life is going to have Gov in it -- and the same must be true for Jordan if our custody arrangement was to remain fair. Who am I to worry about Governor Monkey having a stepmom when he’s happily cavorting on vacation with my boyfriend and me?

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Gov and Melo

Ultimately, I’ve learned that I cannot control everything. To let go a bit, to let life happen, is okay. I support Jordan’s right to move on and find love again. And part of that means accepting that Governor Monkey is going to, someday, have a stepmom who will play a role in Gov’s life over which I will have little to no say. Just like parents of human children, Jordan and I must hope that the priorities and commitments we have set for our dog’s health, behaviors, and overall well-being will carry over even when one of us is not present. I could spend my time wringing my hands and being controlling; I could even try to keep Gov from going with Jordan on weekend trips to see this woman. However, I would also be keeping Gov from getting to run around on the beach and be doted upon by the woman’s young son, which thrills him.

My other option is to be open to my dog giving to others the amazing gifts of “love” he gives and to him receiving the same from those around him -- including a new stepparent.

No one else will ever be Gov’s mom -- but if he is likely to have a stepdad, then it’s only fair he’s allowed to have a stepmom, too. I guess it is a case of the more the merrier for him. Now I just need for the other woman to wear a less floral perfume.

How have you dealt with shared custody of a pet? What made it easier for you? Let us know in the comments. 

About the author: Adina is the owner of Philadelphia-based professional pet sitting and dog walking company Queenie’s Pets and is a Certified Canine Massage Therapist. Adina is committed to holistic, positive reinforcement-based care and training for all household pets. Through years of study, Adina has become a canine nutrition advocate and enjoys educating her clients and communities about raw feeding as well as alternative, preventative healthcare. The love of animals has always been Adina’s driving force in life. Adina lives in Philadelphia and is mom to four rescues: Moxie (a yoga-loving tuxedo cat), Mouse (a feisty Maine Coon cat), Governor Monkey (a Border Collie-esque Mutt), and MeloDrama (a muppet-looking, fluffy Rottweiler-y mutt). Follow her on Facebook and Twitter

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