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Davis Journal

Dogs and divorce–how they play a part

Jan 13, 2022 12:13PM ● By Bryan Gray

In the 36 years of writing this weekly column, I have learned there are two things a columnist should never criticize. One is a high school athlete. Write, “The junior quarterback’s plays were as exciting as a casket-bearing at Forest Lawn” and the columnist will definitely be besieged by angry letters and offended e-mails.

The other “how dare you?” is besmirching someone’s pet animal.

This is especially true of dogs. My wife’s nephew is typical of many dog owners. The tiny animal turns up his pampered nose at regular dog food. No Alpo for that precious pooch; instead the young man treats him to soft flour tacos at Taco Bell. When asked if he would trade little Pip for a million dollars, the nephew acted as if he were being held hostage by a drunk Taliban recruit. “Of course not,” he said. “Pip is more than a furry friend; he’s family.”

He is not alone. A New York State survey found that a majority of dog owners would reject the million dollar check. You don’t mess with Lassie! The same survey found that 76% feel guilt when leaving their pets at home, 41% take their dogs on vacation with them, and 38% telephone their pets so the critters can hear their human voice.

A friend of mine was contemplating a divorce when it occurred to him that his wife would ask for custody of their Doodle. “I’d give her the Utah Jazz season tickets and the bulk of the bank accounts,” he said, “but I’d never consent to her getting the dog.”

A New Yorker magazine article threw light on the judicial question. States like New York and California used to see pets as property to be distributed in divorce cases. In recent years, however, the law has allowed judges to determine cases based on “the best interest of the animal.”

In other words, is the Golden Retriever more like a bookshelf or a human being? If a child’s interests are central to custody cases, why not the most suitable home for a low-shedding Westie?

It’s not an easy decision and it can be costly. One magazine noted a San Diego woman who spent close to $150,000 on a video entitled “A Day in the Life of Gigi” as part of a bonding study on who would keep a greyhound-pointer mix. The woman won, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the insulted husband’s first visit after the courtroom verdict was to an animal shelter.  

I have no dog in this fight; I have no dog. My lifestyle and the lack of a backyard would not be fair to the dog.  I would rather let sleeping dogs lie than walking one of its “morning constitutional” in frigid winter weather.  Furthermore, dogs should be chasing squirrels and digging holes in gardens, not resting on Lazy-Boy recliners watching the nightly news with his master.

Not all pets are equal.  Few would contest a divorce over a goldfish or a pet lizard, and I’ve never seen a Reward poster for a missing hamster.  But dogs are different, even those that snarl at the postman or refuse to share a bowl with the family cat.

Now a cat…Okay, I’m not going there. Save your angry letters and e-mails for someone else!