A weekly series in which our expert in all things everything solves life’s conundrums, big and small.  Got a problem that could use a no-nonsense perspective?  Tell it to the Co-It-All at voice@intheco.com

Dear Co-it-all,

My boyfriend has “joint-custody” of his dog with his ex. It’s not a legally binding arrangement, or anything. Just something they agreed to when they split after being together for a year, and owning their dog (Dr. Zhiv-dogo) for about three months. I’m not a huge animal person, but more than that I think this whole situation is ridiculous—especially since she (the dog, I mean) could easily live for another decade. Maybe more! My boyfriend and I are moving in together in the spring, and I am thinking that might be a good time to ask him to bow out of this co-parenting arrangement permanently. Am I being unreasonable?

 

First things first here—Dr. Zhiv-dogo??!! Please tell me that this dog wears a fur pillbox hat and barks in a Russian accent. This, and only this, might explain why two adults (two adults who dated for about three seconds) have opted to tie themselves together indefinitely over a pet. Otherwise, I’ve got to say this whole situation demonstrates all the good judgment of Justin Bieber at a tattoo parlor…or a hair salon…or an exotic pet store. But enough about the Biebs, because honestly, even he wouldn’t have shared that monkey with his girlfriend.

I realize this might ruffle a bit of fur, but I’m going to say it anyway: Sharing custody of a pet following a break-up is not a good idea. More than that, it’s a ridiculous idea, even for couples who have co-owned said pet for longer than, say, a single season of Homeland!! I know, I know—dogs are the new kids and pet parenthood is a real thing, but seriously—no it’s not.

I’m not saying that an animal can’t be a BFF, a beloved member of the family (often more beloved than many two-legged relations). Nor am I some heartless Disney villain in a Dalmatian coat. I love dogs, hate the idea of any animal being mistreated and tear up during most YouTube clips involving man’s best friend. Still I think our society has gone a little bow-wow when it comes to the lengths we go to for pets. Looking specifically at your boyfriend’s situation—deciding which partner is going to take responsibility for an animal after a breakup is not easy. But neither are breakups. All the same, a decision needs to be made and lives need to be moved on with. Or at least that’s my take on the subject.

Safe to assume that boyfriend has a different take—one he presumably feels quite strongly about. This is not to say you can’t make a move here, just that you need to tread lightly. Most importantly, you need to avoid saying anything that might come off as belittling or dismissive, so bite that tongue, unroll those eyes and avoid terms like “stupid”, “idiotic” and “sausage factory”. Often we make the mistake of thinking we need to approve of another person’s feelings in order to respect them, but really you can just say to yourself, his feelings matter.

And he has to do the same. You are absolutely right in thinking that the time to talk about this situation is now. Wait until move-in date, and you may as well add “Step mommy to Dr. Zhiv-dogo” to your Twitter bio. I have no idea how aware boyfriend is in terms of your discomfort, but maybe you start by letting him know that while you are really excited for the move in, you’re not comfortable with the pet parenting set up. After that, stop talking and see what he says next. Be calm, don’t take pot shots and try to position the problem as in, “what can we do about this?,” which is always a good idea (and often a sneaky way of getting what you want, regardless of the circumstances).

As you are probably aware, your situation isn’t really a referendum on post-relationship canine custody arrangements, so much as a relationship test on how you and he share feelings, resolve conflict, respect each other’s emotions and compromise. Ugh. Relationship problems are the worst, but they’re almost never original.

If the problem has to do with behaviours around puppy co-parenting (maybe your guy’s ex uses Dr. Z as a way to interfere in your relationship), think about how you might deal with those issues specifically. My guess is that once you feel heard and respected on this matter, then all of sudden this Great Dane of a problem will start to seem like more of a Chihuahua. Who knows, maybe you’ll even start to enjoy the little fleabag. Or maybe not.

Only you can say for sure if Dr. Z is a deal breaker. If that’s the case, then you don’t have a lot to lose here. So sure, go ahead and put your foot down. Tell him, “It’s me or that Russian bitch!” Just don’t be surprised if you’re the one who ends up in the doghouse.