Is marriage going to the dogs?

FI-Joe-PisaniRecently, the front page of the New York Post featured a larger than life photo of a doe-eyed miniature dachshund named Joey, looking forlorn and confused.

Apparently, the married women who owned him were breaking up and there was going to be an ugly fight for custody. Poor little Joey. The screaming, or more aptly “howling,” headline told the whole story when it said, “DOG OF WAR: Landmark custody battle over dog in divorce.”

Reading beyond the headline, it turns out that, after a year of marriage, the couple was separating and were wrangling over who would keep Joey, a 2-year-old pooch that one woman gave to the other when they were dating. The judge said he would hear oral arguments in what would be New York’s first matrimonial pet custody case.

As it turned out, the couple reached a settlement a week later, but the brouhaha fueled a debate about whether dogs should be treated like property or children in divorce proceedings. In Alabama, a judge recently awarded a dog to a spouse because it was in the “best interests” of the dog, which is a term usually used in child custody cases.

The New York woman who received Joey as a gift was given permanent custody, and she told the Post, “I consider this puppy, my little angel Joey, the love of my life. He is my little soulmate, and there is no way in this lifetime I could ever live without him.”

I suspect every man wants to be loved as much as little Joey. Woof woof!

You cat lovers can scoff, but dogs have a special place in our hearts. As Manhattan Justice Matthew Cooper said in his ruling, “People who love their dogs almost always love them forever. But with divorce rates at record highs, the same cannot always be said for those who marry.”

If we loved our spouses as much as our dogs, there would be peace on Earth and fewer divorce lawyers.

My friend’s father was a prominent Westchester divorce attorney who, for many years, fought over who got to keep Fido in the divorce — until he decided he had better things to do with his career and went to work in the legal department of a public utility where the debate over nuclear power wasn’t quite as rancorous.

In John Homans’ book What’s a Dog For?, an authority on dog-human relationships at the University of Pennsylvania explained it this way, “People are living more isolated lives, are having fewer children, their marriages aren’t lasting. All these things sort of break down a social network and happen to exactly coincide with the growth in pet populations. What’s happening is simply that we’re allowing animals to fill the gap in our lives.”

Judge Cooper said, “Most pet owners would not trade their pets for even $1 million in cash.”

When I emailed my wife the story about Joey, she immediately wrote back, “Bella is the only thing I would fight for! You could have EVERYTHING else!!!!!!” (Why do women love exclamation points and capital letters so much, especially when they communicate with men? I guess they like to make sure we get the point, or maybe they think we have a problem listening.)

I’m pretty sure that if my wife had to choose between me and our dog (“her” dog, if she were telling the story), I’d be sent to the kennel and Bella would be relaxing on my pillow, eating Milk-Bone dog biscuits.

My wife even prepares special organic meals because Gravy Train isn’t good enough for this pampered pooch. Meanwhile I have to resort to eating Wendy’s pretzel burgers, which in itself should be cause for a divorce proceeding.

OK, this week I’ll suck it up and let the dog get the better half. I’ll buy a junior bacon double-cheeseburger for dinner. But I have to wonder, Would things be different if I changed my name to Joey?


Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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