Classic story: girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl also falls in love with boy’s dog, girl and boy split, girl loses two loves.
I didn’t grow up with pets, other than the constant rotation of goldfish that would die, get flushed down the toilet, and then replaced, repeat.
I always wanted a dog but my very clean mother insisted that a dog was dirty and would poop and pee all over the house. Meanwhile she claimed she would have considered getting us a pet pig since “Pigs are actually the cleanest animal.”
Anyway, I’m really into dogs. As a kid choosing something to snuggle with, my stuffed animal pups always beat out teddy bears and baby dolls. I watched Garfield every Saturday morning, but was really in it for Odie. Just now as I am writing this, a cute puppy walked by the cafe window where I’m sitting and I found myself checking him out the way a guy checks out a girl in a short skirt. What I’m trying to say is I LOVE DOGS.
Cats, not so much. But this is not an article about dogs versus cats. This is an article about how much it sucks when you welcome a dog, cat, pig, ferret, snake (if you are a snake person, please talk to me about in the comments as I am soooo curious about snake lovers) into your heart and then that pet goes away. Not when that pet dies, but when a breakup forces you to also breakup with your four-legged friend (or no-legged for you snake people).
The first time I met my ex’s dog, she peed on my dress. She was claiming her space, letting me know I was on her turf, and she was mad that her owner was petting me and not her.
As time passed, she began to warm up to me and we started to bond as people and animals do. I began to find her sweet spots like the space under her collar and the back of her ears that when rubbed made her stick out her tongue in pure bliss.
When I was sad, she would come over and nuzzle her face in my lap knowing I needed comfort. And every now and then when she would get constipated and couldn’t push anymore, I would help yank a poop out of her cute little butt despite how much it made me gag.
I loved her and she loved me, and when I moved in with my boyfriend my dreams came true; I finally had a dog.
A few years later, though, I had a broken heart. My boyfriend and I split, and I moved out. There was no question about custody; the dog would stay with him since he was hers before we ever met.
He told me I could visit her after the breakup which wasn’t a good idea. Seeing her meant I would have to see him, and I knew we both needed time apart to heal and move on. So he had the dog and I had an iPhone full of photos of me and my ex-dog. Photos I used to proudly show people the way an excited new mom shares pics of her newborn.
I uploaded the photos onto a drive and off of my phone so I wouldn’t stare at her sweet fluffy face anymore. I also deleted him on Facebook and Instagram partly because I needed space from him, but also because I needed space from her. I didn’t want to know that she was woofing it up at the park or celebrating Christmas in her adorable elf outfit.
I remember feeling really weird about my pet grief. Did she think I abandoned her? Did she even realize I was gone? Was she sad or was she over it the second she was given a new squeaky toy? That’s probably the thing that sucked the most; I couldn’t talk to her about it; I couldn’t explain what happened or apologize because she’s a dog. She’s just a dog, right? Was I being stupid for feeling so sad? It’s not like that dog was my daughter or anything.
But anyone who has ever had a pet knows they are never “just” a dog or cat or whatever. They become family.
So, if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet after a breakup know that your feelings are valid. Loss is loss no matter the magnitude. Allow yourself time to grieve. You’re dealing with two losses here — the loss of the relationship with your partner and the loss of your relationship with your pet. One is hard enough. Two at the same time is extra tough.
Also, take some space. Even though I cut off social media connections, I found myself peeking at my ex's page occasionally because, well, I’m human and the Internet is too damn tempting and I wanted to see how my former dog was doing. I found that checking on my dog just made me feel worse. That may not be the case for everyone, but seeing photos of her just made me feel sad all over again.
If you’re snooping on your old pup and it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Cutting off contact may be rough, but in the long run I think it’s the better option. If any of you have found a way to share custody of a pet with your ex, I’d love hear your experiences in the comments.
And if you’re craving some animal love but aren’t in a place to get a new pet (I can’t right now because my apartment and schedule won’t allow it), volunteer at a pet shelter or offer to walk a friend's dog.
At first it may almost feel like you're cheating on your ex-pet, but you’re not. Animals are a wonderful source of joy and love. If you’re craving wet nose kisses or giving belly rubs, there are plenty of pets out there that would love to receive your affection.