Advice

My roommate and I adopted a dog together during lockdown. Now that it’s time to move on, who gets custody?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

My roommate, who is also a longtime friend, and I got through more than a year of the pandemic living together. We had some good times and really kept each other sane, but it wasn’t always easy, especially with us both working from my house. Sometimes we never got a break from each other. Anyway, we would zone out on our phones and kept sharing posts of dogs up for adoption and she finally convinced me that we should get one. She said it would make our lives better and save the dog. So we went to an adoption clinic and found an adorable husky mix rescue from Western Alaska. I technically signed the adoption papers, but she was a big factor in helping me get past the anxiety of adding a dog to my life and my home. I absolutely fell in love with the dog. He’s been my source of joy since we got him. And she’s been great with him, too, but doesn’t have the connection or time invested in him that I do.

Meanwhile, things with her and I have gotten awkward — I’m spending a lot of time with the dog, she’s spending time with one of our bubble friends who is basically her boyfriend. When we’re together there’s tension and we even snip at one another occasionally, which we’ve never done before. We don’t really have any fun together, either.

She’s made comments in the last month that if she ever moves out, she wants the dog to come with her. She knows how much I love him and I think she’s saying that to hurt my feelings but now I’m dragging my feet about asking her to move out. I just can’t imagine her taking or even sharing my fur buddy. I mean, he’s my dog, right? And we both know he would be happier living with me and at my home where he’s been since we got him. And she’s got her new boyfriend. What should I do? I can’t stand the stress of living with her or the thought of losing my dog.

Wanda says:

You’re hardly the first household that took on a new pet in a Hail Mary move to survive the COVID doldrums. And like many before you, you’re now in that moment of bailout, where you’ll both inevitably need to make the leap into different lifeboats — but who gets the dog?

It sounds like things have gotten fairly tense between the two of you, so look at it this way: the dog could actually be useful in avoiding this and defusing the tension. After all, you both for sure care a lot about this furry pet and neither of you want to stress the dog out, right? As with children when parents part ways, a dog’s emotional well-being and routines can be negatively impacted by major household changes, like a physical move, or a family member leaving. To avoid causing your beloved pet unintentional anxiety or stress, the two of you should agree to navigate your cohabitation separation with patience and calm.

Typically, the person who paid for the dog keeps the dog and with your signature on those adoption papers, you do have the upper hand, at least legally. And you’ve also really bonded with your dog, that’s clear. But your puppy love might make you a bit blind to your roommate’s emotional claim on the dog. Just because you love your little buddy so much doesn’t mean your friend doesn’t earnestly love him too. That said, it isn’t unheard of that people come up with shared pet custody plans. Maybe this doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and even if you insist on keeping your pet — it is, after all, yours — you could offer up a promise of puppy play dates and walks in the park to keep her connected to him, too.

Wayne says:

Yes, this is your home and this is your dog, so you can give your friend the boot and keep the pooch without her having much substance to any argument in either matter — unless she signed a rental agreement. That doesn’t mean she won’t have plenty to say about the situation, though, and if you go that route, you should expect an earful.

But you don’t want to do that, right? This is an old friend, a good friend. And these have been extraordinary times and circumstances, to say the least. And you’re both in weird spaces now. A little time apart and new living arrangements will do your respective lives and your relationship some good. And so will your flexibility in sharing the dog.

I repeat, this is your dog, and the dog should live with you, his owner, in your home, which is now his home. That’s nonnegotiable. But let your friend know that when she wants to see him, and if it doesn’t interfere with any of your pup’s plans, she can have him for a hike, walk, afternoon or overnight. Like Wanda said, this could also make the potentially hairy situation of asking her to move out feel a little more warm and furry —and cuddly.

And since you’ll soon be a single dog mom, I’ll share this nugget. I’ve learned a lot as a dog owner, and one of the most important things is that having a trustworthy dog sitter is a freaking lifesaver. Even better: having a sitter who is also a friend who adores your dog and is willing to exercise him, provide emergency potty breaks when you’re running late or tied up, or watch him for a night, weekend or week while you’re on vacation, away for work, or just need some me time. On that alone, you should not burn this bridge.

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