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August 30, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


"Friend's" Best Friend? Pet Custody Peeves

People get a little nutty about their pets. I mean, Breakup Dog and I were totally talking about this the last time I called home and Breakup Dad held the phone up to her ear. It also occurs to me, every now and then, that people get a little nutty about their relationships.

And some people, goodness knows, have both. A pet name and a pet name, if you know what I mean. (Or, in the case of Enuff Already's bumpersticker lady -- "The more people I meet, the more I like my cat!" -- a pet name and a pet peeve, which can make you equally antisocial.)

So what happens when these three-way relationships fall apart? Well, Jennifer Aniston, apparently, lost Donovan but kept the dog; Clooney lost Preston but kept the potbellied pig. Sometimes, however, the pets -- normally used to getting booted out of the middle (of the bed) -- find themselves caught there. (Either that, or couples resolutely (though ill-advisedly) insist that they're "staying together for the chickens.") Our beasts bear our burdens, indeed.

But according to an article by Alexandra Zissu in last week's New York Times, more and more couples formerly known as Couples "appear to be arranging what might be called pet joint custody." (She adds:"...especially in a city like New York where there are lots of childless adults bonding intensely with their animal companions.") (I don't know what the young lady is talking about! Do you, Harvey?)

In fact, the truth about Janeane Garofalo is that she's in a forthcoming movie -- Dog Park -- about this very topic: "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy must share dog with ex-girlfriend..." -- and dog, traumatized, sees animal therapist. (Analyze this.) Dogs (collies, especially) do indeed have a way of knowing when "someone's hurt."

Yet -- even though Breakup Mom refers to her dog-group humans in terms of their canine pedigree ("Dart's mommy") -- animals are not subject to child custody laws, as they are legally considered property. So, according to divorce lawyer Arthur I. Hirsch, most such in-the-doghouse couples attempt to settle these matters (mirabile dictu) out of court.

This could change.

Earlier last week, the Times -- and last Friday, BG's Superlist -- also reported that lawyers "are creating a new field of animal law with far more ambitious goals than traditionally weak anti-cruelty laws...[in order to be] more than brief-writing counterparts of animal activists." Their intention, much like Breakup Dog's: to put the American legal principle that animals, as "property," have no rights ... right out to pasture. To which -- in general -- I say: Hoo and Ray. Thank the pig.

But what if some of these kitty-custody cases actually do make it to their people's court? Eeek! How would the fauna, like, testify as to their preference? I can only imagine some sort of age-old technique combining the wisdom of Solomon, the drama of Brecht, and the oeuvre of Barrymore: placing the creature between the "parents" and letting it choose. (Which will not work for fish; let's hope it doesn't come to that.)

That said, I'll leave further legal considerations to these humans.

In the meantime:

Can co-pet-parenting ever work?

As Stephanie Larfarge, a psychotherapist who works at the ASPCA, told the Times, "Joint custody is terrific if it is not an excuse for fighting and prolonging the separation."

Right on.

(In other words, not if you're "Dog Tired" or his/her ex. Use pooch as pawn, and I will call PETA.).


> Keep in mind that if the name you chose for your little miracle is the Navajo word for "the stray cat we took in together on the first anniversary of a love that will last forever," you will have to think fast.

> When it's your "turn," resist the urge to "check for 'ticks'" (as in clues). (As in: lipstick on the flea collar.)

> When it's not your "turn," you may have a Pavlovian reaction. (Upon seeing a similar dog, you will drool.)

> And if you attempt your own out-of-court Canine Chalk Circle, remember:

• If Spot picks you, you offer a more stable home and are a better person. Or:

• If Spot picks your ex, you are spared all sorts of painful associations and guilt-inducing quandaries ("If I walk it with someone else, is that cheating?"). Also, remember that dogs and cats, when given a choice, also run full-speed toward dead moles and squashed 'possums.



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