Life Lessons from a Split-Custody Dog

Photo: Thinkstockby Amy Shearn

On weekends the large park I live near is lousy with dogs. Specifically, very cute dogs being walked by optimistic young couples armed with toys, portable dog dishes, and those things that throw balls extra-far. That is to say, dog-babies. These couples love their dogs. As in, LOVE love. As in, they give their dogs licks of their ice cream cones. I know they do. I once had a dog-baby too. Still have the dog, only now she's just a dog. I sometimes want to stop these people and grip their arms and say, "Are you crazy? If you're not ready to have an actual baby, just nurture a plant or something! Enjoy your responsibility-free life! Do you know how long dogs LIVE?" Whatever. They won't listen anyway. Their ears are stoppered with sweet puppy love and fluffy little plugs of dog hair.

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But what happens to these dog-babies when the young couples don't marry and have actual-babies? What happens when the couples break up? Marisa Meltzer and her boyfriend found themselves in this predicament when they split up, and decided to share custody of their dog, Chauncey. Meltzer writes for GOOD about how at first it worked out perfectly -- they lived across the street from one another and shared the dog. The dog was well-cared-for and happy, and Meltzer could sneakily keep tabs on her ex. Then her ex-boyfriend moved in with his new girlfriend, across town. Meltzer writes, "Only when Kevin stopped turning up in my apartment each afternoon was I able to understand that putting someone else's needs first--the dog's--required me to more closely monitor my own needs, too." Sharing the dog kept the two linked, which as anyone who's ever had an ex knows is part-nice and part-exhausting. But in the end, it was the dog's needs that allowed Meltzer to move on. She couldn't moon over her ex's new life. After all, she had a dog to take care of.

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What a lucky dog-baby, first of all, to have people who love him so much. And also: how lucky we pet-owners are, to have these sweet animals around, teaching us lessons in forgiveness and moving on, helping us to practice varying emotional states, and being gracious enough, even after they've gone from being dog-babies to just plain dogs, to snuggle our feet on chilly evenings.

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