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Who Keeps the Pet After a Breakup?

Not all relationships have a happy ending. But while it may be easy to grab your things and go, or kick your significant other out of the house, one major question remains: who gets to keep the pet? Whether you are in a rocky relationship or just want to know for future knowledge, this question has been analyzed by ExoticDirect, a U.K.-based company that offers pet insurance for birds, lizards, tortoises, small and exotic mammals.

ExoticDirect posed two questions involving hypothetical situations, one of which was, “Do you think you’d let your significant other visit the shared pet if you broke up?” These questions were part of two separate surveys that involved a total of 500 people, with the aim of understanding how couples handle pet ownership in a breakup.

The findings of these surveys were not only surprising, but led to an even deeper investigation. Here are the results from the surveys, as explained by Irina M. Wells of ExoticDirect.

78 percent said they’d let their significant other visit the shared pet if they broke up.

This is the result of a hypothetical situation. It turns out, however, that when the breakup is not hypothetical but actually very real, responses change dramatically. When posed to former partners, that same question garnered only 21 percent saying yes.

The two surveys suggest that most couples underestimate the effect that a breakup would have on them, overestimate how polite the breakup would be and fail to account for the possibility of their partner having different preferences to theirs. Sadly, this often leads to one person’s relationship with the pet disintegrating or becoming severed altogether, which raises the question, is getting a pet with a partner a good idea at all?

Having a pet is a better indicator of couples staying together than having a baby.

This was found in a U.S. survey in 2013, and it is true that shared pet ownership can be a good precursor to becoming parents and can even solidify a relationship. This is because having a baby can often be considered a “constrained commitment,” which is characterized by a moral sense of obligation, while a pet indicates a “dedicated commitment,” which is a hallmark of stable romantic partnerships – where both partners have no reasons to be together other than because they want to.

59 percent of couples get their shared pets while living together.

If couples who aren’t living together get a pet and they don’t work out, typically the main factor that’s considered is who bought the pet. However, this statistic makes deciding that much more difficult, especially since many long-term co-inhabiting partners have a shared income.

10 percent of pets acquired during a relationship have to be re-homed.

If a decision can’t be reached, the pet might have to be re-homed, which is what some said they have done or would do after a breakup. This is usually the outcome if the couple parts on bad terms or no solution can be worked out. The good news is that couples who part on good terms are able to make sharing a pet possible, and that’s what 7 percent of survey respondents reported they did after they broke up with their partner.

Caution is advised, however. Some pets like rabbits, for example, would not fare well when split between two homes, and others like snakes and lizards, which require carefully regulated environments to thrive, need bulky items like vivariums and all the associated equipment. These would be very tricky to transport without significant disruptions to the pet’s habitat.

34 percent of partners do not let their ex visit the pet.

Many pets need a stable living environment in order to thrive, which means that letting the pet live with one owner, and allowing the ex-partner to visit, might be the best thing to do. This can reduce emotional pain felt by both the pet and the ex-partner. But this situation, and the fact that 45 percent said their ex doesn’t want to visit the pet, might be easier said than done if the relationship didn’t end well. In those scenarios, the relationship has usually disintegrated to such a degree that at least one, if not both, former partners do not want to see each other. More trivial reasons include when one partner has moved too far or is simply not interested in the pet.

The reality of breaking up and deciding who gets the pet proves to be very different from the original expectations people have, which means you might have to give the idea of getting a pet together some extra thought beforehand. So, should you get a pet together and if so, is there a right time? There’s no definitive answer and as much as we like to think we know how we’d react, until it actually happens, we never really do. A breakup involving a pet, whether two months into ownership or several years, is very unpredictable.