We Split Up, I Got the Dog, And I Still Feel Kind of Guilty About It

If you’re thinking of adopting an animal with your sweetheart, I strongly suggest writing down what your plan is for your fuzzy darling if you two split up.
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NC Eakin
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If you’re thinking of adopting an animal with your sweetheart, I strongly suggest writing down what your plan is for your fuzzy darling if you two split up.

We adopted him just before moving in together in January 2013. 

I was under-employed at the time: in the process of being laid off from my nonprofit job and working from home after a bizarre workplace harassment incident. At the time, it seemed like a perfect situation. 

I had plenty of time to train and walk a pup and get him adjusted to living with us. And given that I had a lot of time on my hands, browsing dog rescues on Petfinder was a great way to fill my time and avoid looking for a new job.

When I saw Tram’s listing, I immediately fell in love with his soulful eyes. I grew up with a sassy Jack Russell Terrier as my childhood pet, so I knew I wanted a terrier mix. 

Then we met him, and he hugged my partner’s leg and it was an instant decision. We were not leaving without him.

This is Tram. One of his many nicknames is Handsome Boy Thing.

This is Tram. One of his many nicknames is Handsome Boy Thing.

We took him home on the subway in a tote bag. He was shockingly cooperative for a creature who had been through a lot. We set up his crate and he settled in immediately after devouring a full bowl of food. Those first few days with him were like a dream. I was so thrilled to have my own dog for the first time.

Two weeks later, we moved into our new apartment and the three of us settled into a routine. He was the best co-worker while I worked from home. With some belly rubs and a spot to nap near me while I worked from my laptop, he was content. 

It was great having him around, forcing me to take walks during the day to break up the misery of job searching. It also helped us meet many of our new neighbors. The comradery of walking your dog in below freezing temperatures cannot be matched.

When I went back to 9-5 office work, we all adjusted to the new routine. All in all, our domestic life was pretty harmonious. 

In early summer 2013, I got a new corporate job that paid me significantly more than I’d ever made. My partner and I began to bicker over who would pay for a dog walker, a necessity now that I worked longer hours and further away from home. 

Fortunately, we did find a great walker who loved Tram (and vice versa) and a pack of small dogs he could walk with. Our domestic harmony continued, for a while.

After nearly breaking up in the summer of 2014, we finally called it quits for real in late November 2014. It was the most intense, emotional breakup I have ever been through. 

Among the many things that came up while dividing our mutual belongings, the most emotionally loaded conversations concerned who would keep our pup. Thankfully our lease ended January 2015, but we had a terrible December living our breakup daily.

I felt strongly that I was the impetus for us getting a dog. I was also the reason we got him, a small terrier, in particular. She had a very idealistic notion that we should share time with him in the beginning and move toward me having him full time eventually. 

As our breakup progressed, and the reality of having a dog on my own settled in I had a brief moment of panic where I thought maybe I shouldn’t keep him (I was thinking about getting my MBA part time). 

My former partner seized that moment to assert that if I was unsure, she should keep him. A lot of arguing ensued, both of us deeply feeling the loss of our relationship and knowing that one of us would end up losing the dog, too.

Ultimately, my argument that I was the primary caretaker and person for Tram prevailed and we agreed that I would take him. We also agreed that having to see each other while passing him back and forth after just splitting would be too difficult but I maintained that she could ask to see him if she wanted to later on.

Tram and I waiting on a fancy dinner on a recent trip to the Catskill Mountains with my new SO. We both enjoyed the steak.

Tram and I waiting on a fancy dinner on a recent trip to the Catskill Mountains with my new SO. We both enjoyed the steak.

It has been nearly 9 months now since we split. She has not asked to see him, but I know she’s taking care of other people’s animals, and I’m glad she has some canine company. 

I often feel guilty that I got to keep him. I’ve also had moments where the stress of being a single pet parent has really gotten to me. 

Waking up to a dog who is throwing up or worse, and having no one to help clean up or commiserate with is lonely. I am the only one who orders his kibble, takes him to the vet, who needs to remember to administer his monthly heartworm preventative, and take him for walks many times a day, every single day.

My guilt and frustrations are strongly outweighed by the ways that I’ve benefitted from having him in my life. 

Long before my ex and I broke up, I had my first full blown panic attack and I’ve been grappling with waves of anxiety and depression since. Having Tram has forced me to take walks outside even when I didn’t feel capable of climbing out of bed. 

I’ve been empowered at moments where I felt my life didn’t matter, that at least this one small furry creature depended on me to take care of him. In moments of despair, he will do silly things like tilt his head completely sideways at a strange noise and I can’t help but burst out laughing. Most importantly, I always have someone to snuggle with and a partner for everyday activities.

Tram and I have a regular date at the bagel shop in our neighborhood. He gets bites of egg and enjoys people watching.

Tram and I have a regular date at the bagel shop in our neighborhood. He gets bites of egg and enjoys people watching.

After we broke up, my former partner and I both stayed in the neighborhood we mutually called home. That means on a few occasions, Tram and I have run into her. 

The first time was painfully awkward since we both had our new significant others in tow. The second time was just last week. We had a nice conversation and I was thrilled on Tram’s behalf that he got to wriggle into her arms and lick her face again.

When we parted ways though, Tram was so confused. I think he fully expected her to come back up to my apartment with us. After we were back inside, he spent the next hour whining and waiting by the door, which deeply upset me. I sympathize deeply with him for losing someone who was so central to his life.

He is beginning to bond with my new SO, and will look for him when asked. I know, though, that nothing will compare to the bond he had with my former partner, the other human who rescued him. He still has me, his primary person, but there is something so sad about that loss that still makes me feel guilty.

When my former partner and I were together, Tram didn’t sleep in the bed regularly. Needless to say when we split, that went out the window. He snuggles in with me every night.

When my former partner and I were together, Tram didn’t sleep in the bed regularly. Needless to say when we split, that went out the window. He snuggles in with me every night.

If you’re thinking of adopting an animal with your sweetheart, I strongly suggest writing down what your plan is for your fuzzy darling if you two split up. 

My former partner and I foolishly did this for all of our shared possessions, but not for our pup. I doubt it would have alleviated the pain of negotiating our split, but it certainly would have eased my guilt about their relationship ending.