What They Don’t Tell You About Getting A Dog With Your Partner

My partner and I had been back-and-forthing about adopting a rescue dog for months. We moved in together right as the 2021 Sydney lockdowns hit, and had my parents dog with us for a good chunk of that. We got so accustomed to having a pet around to walk and cuddle with on the couch, that when the time came to hand her back to my parents we were in serious discussions about getting one of our own.
It wasn’t exactly a spontaneous choice – we’re both really aware of the fact that so many dogs are handed to pounds after being bought or adopted rashly. But it wasn’t really a relationship decision. In our minds, getting a dog wasn’t that big of a deal from a relationship point-of-view. We didn’t think it would impact us much beyond just factoring in their needs, you know?
We were wrong.
For the first month, I think I was in shock. We’d adopted a little, nine-year-old rescue dog. We named him Teddy. We’d done our research and made sure he was apartment-friendly and would be okay with being left alone while we went to work. He adjusted well, no dramas at all. 
The one who didn’t adjust well was me. I truly didn’t realise how serious a step this was going to be for Tom and I. We were flung into this new level of relationship intimacy – we were a family. For real though, that was honestly how it felt. We weren’t just two people in love living together, we were now a couple that had to keep a tiny animal alive and work together to do so. Aside from him being covered in fur, he became our child.
Conversations suddenly revolved around Teddy. You have no idea how many texts have flown between us about the state of his poo. Was it healthy? Did this type mean something was wrong? Should he have pooed this morning? We went away for a weekend and spent the entire time scrolling through photos of him and wondering how he was doing. We were obsessed and that obsession bonded us like we were parents.
Ted is factored into every decision we make. Household responsibilities have new weight to them because if you forget to give the dog his heartworm tablet, we could be heading to the vet. He has completely consumed our lives. Completely.
We’re more than happy to take on this responsibility, don’t get me wrong. We love him to the moon and back! It’s just a lot, it’s way more intense than I was expecting. Like we call each other mummy and daddy when we talk to the dog and it’s a joke, obviously, but it’s this little innocuous stuff that makes you realise “shit, we’ve gotten deeper into this relationship than we expected”.
The movement from couple to somewhat-family flared up anxiety around what would happen if we split up, too. I don’t plan on breaking up with Tom, and we’re really happy. But relationships are fragile, even the strongest ones. When we moved in together I agonised for weeks prior about what it would mean should our love fade. Breaking up and then dealing with the complexities of moving out of a home you shared together? That’s tough, and while you always have an exit, it’s also true that splitting up when you live separately is naturally smoother than when you live together.
Then, you add in a pet. If Tom and I break up now, we would not only have to break a lease and split up a home, we would have Ted, and whether we share custody of him. 
I’ve honestly never seen this work smoothly — an ex of mine was working through dog custody with his ex when we were initially dating. It was hell — the dog becomes a pawn, an excuse to see the ex or rage at them for other reasons. There is so much face time with someone you loved, but now don’t (or worse, still love but can’t be with for whatever reason).

In our minds, getting a dog wasn’t that big of a deal from a relationship point-of-view. We didn’t think it would impact us much beyond just factoring in their needs, you know? We were wrong.

My friend Jenna split with her partner of 10 years in 2020. They shared a beautiful staffy, Chino, but technically she was his dog — it was his name on the microchip, and he had paid the rescue fee. Still, Jenna had contributed to all her vet bills over the years and, of course, grown to adore her. 
“My breakup was sprung on me, so I lost my partner and my dog at the same time,” she explains. “That was really tough. I had woken up to her face every morning for four years. It was a huge adjustment on top of the breakup grief I was going through.”
Jenna says that for months, she would forget Chino wasn’t around. She’d drop carrot ends on the floor expecting Chino to hoover them up, or wake at 4am and remember she was gone. While they had talked about visits, Jenna says she just couldn’t handle it.
“I wasn’t over him and it hurt too much,” she explains. “I now see her here and there, honestly it’s mainly when he’s in a bind and needs a sitter. But I love seeing her still. The best part is she remembers my face and loses it!”
These stories are heartbreaking but this is the reality of pet ownership as a couple. They’re not children, but then they kind of are. You develop a bond with them, but the rules are murky around how to maintain bonds with pets once you’re no longer a couple.
My friend Rachel recently split with her partner, for example. She had a dog, Finn, and a toddler with him, but says sharing custody of their dog is almost more complicated than their baby.
“Dogs can’t talk to you so you don’t know if you’re upsetting them with all the home changes,” she tells me. “It’s f*cking hard. It’s also a weird experience because I’ll go a week without having Finn at my place, and at first I miss him terribly, but then I get used to the ease of not having a second (furry) baby to look after and start to enjoy that lifestyle.”
She says that when she shifts into this mentality, guilt sets in. “I feel so bad because I love him so much. But sharing a dog is a really different experience to co-parenting a baby.” 

They’re not children, but then they kind of are. You develop a bond with them, but the rules are murky around how to maintain bonds with pets once you’re no longer a couple.

I think when we first considered adopting a dog we didn’t realise how attached we would become to him. Ted is a literal baby of a dog — so needy and cuddly, it’s hard not to treat him like a toddler. Some people don’t end up with a dog like this and maybe they don’t feel the deep, all-consuming attachment that we do. But you just don’t know what you’ll get, no matter how much research you do into breeds and ages. You can’t predict how your pet will make you feel, and that’s the crucial element I’d warn prospective dog owners about.
You might think adopting a dog is whatever. You might think you and your partner are so solid that you don’t even need to consider what would happen if you split up. But adopting a dog is a bigger deal than you can imagine. It will fundamentally change your relationship, and if you do break up one day (I’ve seen the strongest couples break up over the years, it’s never off the table) you’ll have an extra complication to figure out, which can prolong a lot of the heartache.
For all this negativity I do want to tell you that Tom, Teddy and I have a wonderful life together, and while it was rough to start with, we regret nothing. I love this new, deeper stage of our relationship. It’s shown me new sides to Tom, and it’s the best feeling in the world to cuddle on the couch, Ted worming his way in between us and licking our chins. Taking the dog for a walk together is my favourite weekend activity, and we’ve grown so much as a couple as we’ve worked on compromises and navigated the admin side of having Ted. 
It’s a wonderful experience, getting a pet together. It’s just not one I would take lightly again.
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