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Mar 2, 2020

I share dog custody with my ex-fiancé — and it's not easy

By Julie Gobeil
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Every two weeks, I give my dogs to my ex-partner. We’ve been trading custody since our break-up two years ago, and it never gets easier. The pain and loneliness of spending a week without Frankie and Gracie (who are named after the Netflix series) happens like clockwork. But, if I could go back in time to that moment when we decided to adopt dogs together, I would still do it. 

I’ve loved dogs as long as I can remember and always wanted a dog of my own. The problem was my lifestyle of drinking until dawn and only coming home to sleep or change clothes —I knew I wasn’t ready to be a responsible pet owner. I like to think that what I lack in discipline, order, and good habits, I make up for in self-awareness.

Then, I fell in love. After 7+ years of being single, after a decade of dating men, I met a non-binary babe through local activism work — as all great queer love stories begin. We didn’t do much to disprove lesbian stereotypes and promptly moved in together. Almost immediately we started researching dogs to find the right breed. We liked that Havanese dogs are a small, non-shedding breed with a friendly temperament. We were ready to pay $1800 for a purebred Havanese puppy, when two Havanese-Brussels Griffon mixes were listed on a local rescue’s social media. They posted a short video of the two of them laying together and licking each other. I must have watched that video 200 times. 

The dogs were seven years old and siblings. They were surrendered by an older man who developed dementia and moved to a group home. Because the dogs had been together their whole lives, they were deeply bonded and had to be adopted together. While we weren’t expecting or wanting two dogs, we decided that it was way less work to adopt two adult dogs than one puppy — no accidents or potty training, no teething, no anxiety from being separated from their mom for the first time.

Frankie and Gracie came for a home visit and it was love at first sight. I’ll never forget the sight of them walking up and thinking, “Those are our dogs.” They never left the home visit — we officially adopted them that day. It was quite literally a dream come true for me. We took turns walking them in the morning, and often took family walks after supper. We bought and fed them boujee pet food you could only buy from their vet, and in the winter we dressed them in parkas and boots. They slept in bed with us every night, Frankie up by our heads and Gracie at the foot of the bed. 

They are the most chill, snuggly, quiet, low-maintenance dogs. People would often tell us that we were good people for adopting them and giving them a great life, but as cheesy as it is, we always felt like we were the lucky ones. #blessed, y’know?

A year after we met, my partner proposed to me and included the dogs in the proposal.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier than I was that day – I had the things I had always longed for and didn’t really believe myself deserving of obtaining. It was bliss. 

Eight months later, we broke up. I was devastated and fell into a deep depression. It was not an easy ending. We fought about everything, and during an especially intense fight, I called a lawyer to see our respective rights when it came to the dogs and their legal ownership. The lawyer told me that pets are considered property, so it would come down to who bought them. Believe it or not the law doesn’t care that I’m the one who always loved dogs and it was my idea to get them in the first place! 

Thankfully, we came to a custody agreement and I didn’t need to consult the lawyer again. We split the cost of vet visits and grooming, and we make sure we feed them the same thing. I joke sometimes that Frankie and Gracie come from a broken home, but they seem really well adjusted. They appear to feel safe and comfortable in each of our homes, and they love us both. 

There’s always a glimmer of hope in the back of my mind that one day my ex will decide to give up the dogs and let me have them 100% of the time. In reality I don’t think that will happen, and I try not to dwell much on that idea. I have to remind myself of the silver linings of the situation, like less financial burden and the dogs never have to go to a kennel if one of us is travelling. 

Being connected to my ex and seeing them for the handover has helped me get over my fraught feelings towards them. When I see them be affectionate with Frankie & Gracie, and see how much the dogs love my ex, it’s a reminder of the goodness in them. The situation forced us to hurry along our healing processes and be civil with each other. 

Frankie and Gracie bring so much joy to my life — they’re such funny little hams, the sweetest cuddle bugs, my little shadows, my angel babies! I think having them part time has helped me to really savour and appreciate the weeks that they spend with me. If you’re debating getting a dog with a partner because you’re worried about breaking up, I say, do it. Even if it goes badly, you’ll have the precious time you spent together.

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