During the trauma of a separation pets are often the last thing on your mind. Depending on the animal some are quite capable of picking up on hostility and anger and may be frightened and confused. Equally, deciding with whom the pet is going to live can cause huge problems when both spouses have developed a strong attachment. Here are some Dos and Don'ts when considering your pet's welfare during the process of separation or divorce:
- Ensure that when you are discussing the terms of your divorce you include any pets. Make it clear who will care for the pet and any visitation rights.
- Consider your living arrangements when deciding with whom the pet will live. Ensure that you can offer the best care, for example that you are not working long hours or in unsuitable accommodation.
- If your pet is staying with you remember that they will need a lot of love and comfort when the other spouse leaves. Seek the advice of your vet if your pet shows any signs of depression such as not eating or behavioural problems.
- Use your pet as a source of comfort rather than shutting him or her out of your problems. For example if you have a dog take it for long walks to clear your head.
- If the pet is to be cared for by the non-resident parent, encourage any children to write to their pet in-between visits. This can be very therapeutic and children will often write about issues they feel they cannot approach their parents with.
- Allow yourself to grieve if you lose your pet in the process of divorce. The love between a pet and their owner can be very real, and it will be natural for both of you to suffer a sense of loss.
- Argue or shout in front of your pet. This could leave them feeling frightened and insecure.
- Take your anger out on your pet. It is not their fault and if you are feeling angry it is not fair to direct it in their direction.
- Use your pet as a bargaining tool in your divorce. Don't let bitterness between cloud what is in your pet's best interest.
- Approach the court for custody unless it is a last resort. Try talking to your spouse or attempt mediation first.
- Separate children from their pets unless it is necessary. Children can form strong attachments to their pets and they can be a great source of comfort when their parents are separating.
For further advice talk your vet who should be able to advise on caring for your pet during a divorce or separation. For legal advice concerning custody or contact with your pet you should consult a solicitor.