Fighting over Fido, Who Gets the Pets During a Breakup?

The Pima County Animal Shelter is no stranger to pets who are abandoned because their owners are breaking up or divorcing.

Fighting over Fido, Who Gets the Pets During a Breakup?

CREATED May 14, 2012

Reporter: Aaron Brackett
Web Producer: Chuck Meyer

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - We all know how much people love their pets, but what if the owners, don't love each other? A pet stuck in the middle of a failing relationship can be a big problem.

Take a stroll through Pima Animal Care Center and you will see and hear lots of dogs and cats longing for a home. Many of the animals come in as strays, but some are received after their human counterparts split up.

Jayne Cundy is the public service supervisor for Pima Animal Care. despite a hard number being kept, she says far too many pets are caught in the middle of relationships that go sour.

"On occasion, I have seen animals where husband and wife have broken up; one or the other has brought the animal in and then a day or two later the other party has realized the animal is here and they contact us," said Cundy.

What about a case involving a furry friend between two *dating partners?

"Its a little more tricky if its boyfriend-girlfriend because if the owner of the animal has brought it in, we have to contact them again to make sure its OK to redeem the animal to the other party," Cundy added. "Sometimes what we do if we cant do that is we actually allow the other partner to adopt the animal at the end of its stay here."

Its no news that breakups can be unpleasant and as tempers flare, some turn to legal means to gain custody of a pet. Tucson lawyer Michael Piccarreta says since a pet is considered property, it can come up in court, but involving lawyers is not always the best option.

"If there is a dispute over who is getting the family dog, the best way to resolve that is through family mediation," said Piccarreta. "That's where both parties sit down with a professionally trained mediator and try to work out an acceptable solution that they both can live with. Judges in general do not want to sit down and hear disputes over who gets the family dog."

Dog trainer Jennifer Keene went through a pet breakup that was so difficult, it inspired her to write a book helping others through the difficult process.

"Sometimes things got a little complicated," said Keene. "When two people are splitting up, there are a lot of emotions between them and there is a lot of care and concern for their animal which can make tensions run really high. The main thing i kept focusing on was to do what was best for my dog."
Keene agrees with Piccarreta stance on seeking legal council for pet custody.

A mediator can be a really useful resource to help people answer those questions of what is best? what can we do to come together and do what's best for the dogs.

While Piccarreta and Keene recommend mediation for most cases, animals used for profit usually require legal assistance. Otherwise, everyone we spoke to said to keep the focus on what is best for the pet.