The Family Dog and Divorce

Episode 12:  Well, someone has to take fido in the divorce. Is it worth going to court over? If you have children, I think the dog should be with them. I’m not a psychologist, but there’s a popular saying, a boy and his dog, and there is truth to that statement!

How can your dog help you through your divorce?

Today, I’m talking about my own situation because we lost our pet this week and this is my way of working through the grief. I cleaned the water bowl for the last time.

The Family Dog

Our last pet was Patches. He was a black lab with some greyhound in him and he was huge.

He was my youngest sons 16th birthday present.

Unfortunately, shortly after my sons birthday, my marriage fell apart, so the emotions are spinning today on so many levels.

In all fairness, I think it’s important for me to say up front that I’m not a dog lover. I’ve had one the past 30 years mostly because of my kids, but I don’t think I would have gotten a second dog after my first passed.


Our first dog was Dusty. Ironically, even though I’m not a pet fan, I did want this dog. I don’t remember where we got him from but I saw him and had to have him. It might have been the hormones in me, wanting a baby and not being successful, but it was me that said “can we take him home?”

Dusty was a black lab, as all of our dogs have been. He was a trooper and ironically, I did get pregnant shortly after getting him.

This thing called a boy and his dog is so true. My boys were so attached to the dog. After awhile, I wasn’t in love with the dog any more but did the motherly duties and made sure he was taken care of.

He died shortly after my first divorce of old age.


When my second husband and I bought a house together we got a rescue within weeks of moving into the house. At the time, my boys were 9 and 12. It was obvious that they really needed a dog, and so did my husband. The three of them were dog lovers. I went along with the program because of them.  We let the boys pick him out. His foster name was rascal and we thought that was appropriate for him and kept the name.

Rascal liked to run away and we were always traipsing through the neighborhood, shaking the cookie jug, looking for him. My boys were responsible for walking him after school and my husband walked him before bed. Sometimes I would go along as it made for a great opportunity to have a conversation.

When my youngest was turning 16, he asked for a dog. We had many conversations about it and I wasn’t thrilled because I knew I’d be doing a lot of the caring. One day my husband had one of his clients call me about a black lab they needed to give away. Since my husband had her call me, I assumed he was ready for a second dog.

We made arrangements to get the dog and while picking him up, they had a second one they also needed to get rid of. I wasn’t thrilled about 3 dogs, but I knew my husband would love one for his birthday so, boom, we had 2 puppies and an old dog.

Both my son and my husband celebrated birthdays in October, so it was a perfect gift for both of them.

If you’ve listened to other episodes on my marriage, you know it was around when my son turned 16 that my marriage came to an end. Because of what happened, my son had to move out and all of a sudden I had to care for and train 2 puppies on my own.

Fortunately I had a neighbor down the street that loved dogs and she volunteered to walk the two puppies regularly. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Within two months, they had outgrown the cage and we discovered that they were going to be really big dogs.

The stress of my marriage falling apart was so overwhelming for me that caring for all of the dogs was too much.

Within 6 months of getting the two puppies, I gave one of them away. I gave my husbands away and kept my sons. And that begins the story of patches.


Standing on his back legs, he was over 6 feet tall. But thought he was a lap dog. He never stopped trying to cuddle in my lap. I’ve always been the type not to allow dogs on the furniture or the bed but he never stopped trying for my lap!  His head alone filled my lap!

Patches was amazing. He could sense when I was upset and he was always there to offer putting his head on my shoulder when I was crying (which was a lot). He’d be upstairs and could sense me crying downstairs and come down and comfort me. I attribute a lot of getting through the first year of my divorce to him because of being able to hug him!

As we were negotiating the divorce, my husband wanted the dogs. Since I had the boys, I kept the dogs. He was welcome to take them for visitation, but he never asked. Funny, he made  a big deal out of getting custody but never followed up to see them. Typical.

When life resumed a little and my son was living back with me, it was his responsibility to take care of Patches. He needed to walk him, make sure he was fed make sure he was bathed and take him to the vet, Unfortunately he didn’t do many of those on a consistent basis.

I’m the one who purchased the dog food I’m the one who made sure he got looked after, even if it was me harping on my son to make sure that he took them. Eventually my son understood that I was not going to harp on him to walk the dog he had to do it without being told. He stepped up to the plate and did a good job. But I’d continue to buy dog food, I continue to make sure he was fed.  I continued to make sure he had what he needed which wasn’t much but I’m the one who made sure it all got taken care of.

We had to put rascal down a few years later but rascal had done a great job teaching patches the ropes. Part of why I wanted to get a dog when we did was so that rascal could help with the training. Score for rascal for doing a great job!


One of the things I observed during and after the divorce was how much my son needed the dog to help him through the process as well. The divorce was really hard on my son and the dog was a good distraction and provided a lot of comfort. I also feel like in some ways now that patches is gone, there’s final closure. No more reminders of that horrible time in our lives and why my marriage ended.

I’ve been divorced now for almost 10 years and I’ve been a caregiver more than half of that 10 Some of those years were extremely difficult, but patches was always there to comfort me.

Over the years, patches has been amazing. I’ve had a revolving door with people and he’s warmed up to all of them. As much as he was a big dog with a big bark, he was afraid of people, particularly little children. I know that sounds weird,  but it’s the truth. I can’t remember exactly when it began, but I attribute it to one of my tenants. His son was autistic and loved the dog. I’m not sure if he cast magical powers over patches, but whenever he would her screaming kids, he would pull me the other way. Patches wanted nothing to do with kids making noises. The only thing I can attribute it to is the autistic boy that would play with him.


I cried a lot when I had to have my oldest son removed from the house because he wouldn’t put his guns away. That is a long story for another time, but my heart was broken and the dog was always there for me to comfort me and make me feel a little bit better.


When my mom moved in a few years ago, she had fallen off the wagon after 30 years. After I approached her on it, she drank more and started being verbally abusive, so I had to ask her to leave, That was just one year after asking my son to leave, so I was devastated. Tough love was killing me. The dog was there helping me through more difficult times.


Last year my uncle passed and patches came to my rescue. My uncle loved that dog. Just like a dog is good for a boy, a dog is good for a senior. My uncle would feed the dog and talk to the dog and it was great to watch.

Because I work from home, I’m was around the dog a lot. I’d pull in the driveway and hear him barking. He was always near me when I was working or watching TV. When I went up to bed he’d followed me up when I came down in the morning he be waiting for me.


Currently, I rent out rooms in my house and they are always very fond of patches. He did a great job of receiving them as well. One of my guests brought his wife and family for a few days around the holidays and his youngest son had never seen or never had a dog before. I’ve seen my guest FaceTiming with the dog and his son! I was witnessing the boy and a dog scenario from a distance!


As patches begin to age and my son spent less and less time at home, we began to have conversations about what the next steps were for patches. Over the last six months I’ve been taking care of my mom who’s now in hospice and my bandwidth is limited and being able to do anything with the dog. My son wanted to go out and walk the Appalachian trail which was creating a little bit of tension over what we were going to do with the dog.

Erik didn’t feel that patches would ever find a home that was good enough and patches had a lot of tumors and other medical issues that would make it hard to place him. Our conversation, though difficult, was about taking him out of his misery. It was just a matter of when.


I was out of town for 3 days and when I returned, I noticed patches wasn’t in his bed. I texted my son to see if he had the dog with him and didn’t get a response so I called him the next day and he said he had taken care of it.

I’m not sure if I cried because I knew how difficult this was for my son or how sad I was that he was no longer around.

I didn’t expect it to happen when it did.

There wasn’t any warning, I just came home on Thursday night and patches was gone.

On Friday I spoke with my son and I confirmed the patches had gone to puppy heaven. I cried during the conversation. My son said he’d gotten most of his crying out the day before. While I know it was the right thing, it doesn’t make it any easier for me. What I’m feeling right now is so much gratitude for that dog for helping me through so many difficult times.

I’m actually a little surprised at how emotional I am because I’m not a dog lover but that dog was there for me that dog was there for the boys I love my boys.


Today I spent a lot of time cleaning up after patches after all he’s a big black lab that sheds everywhere.

  • I won’t miss the dog hairs but I will miss him greeting me at the door
  • I will miss him waiting at the bottom of the steps waiting for me to go up to bed or waiting at the bottom of the steps when I come down in the morning so that I could feed him I will miss that.
  • I won’t miss the dog poop in the yard
  • I won’t miss having to walk him in the rain and in the snow, but you will always have a special place in my heart.  

I’m not sure any other dog will ever have that same place for me.

My son is already talking about getting another dog and I’m not sure that’s going to work for me but it’s his life and if he wants to move out and get his own dog that’s perfectly okay.I’m really not sure I’m going to have another dog in my house because I can’t stand cleaning up after them.

It was my son’s dog there is definitely the boy in the dog connection and he loves that dog that dog went through everything with him and with me.


Patches was such a good dog and a wonderful part of this family. I am forever grateful for your love and compassion.  I won’t miss cleaning up the dog hairs, but I will miss seeing you waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs

If you’re going through a divorce don’t discount the power of having a dog around whether you’re a dog lover or not. It really does make a difference.and if you have kids who are attached at the dog find a way to keep the dog in their lives as much as you can, because it really does make a difference.


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This episode of Divorce Exposed is hosted by Debbie DeChambeau, CIC, AAI, CPIA. Debbie is an insurance agent with an extensive business and marketing background. Her focus is helping insurance professionals be more successful.

Debbie is the co-author of Renewable Referrals and hosts two other podcasts The Business of Insurance, Business in Real LIfe and coming soon, Seniors We Love, Single and over Sixty. Connect with Debbie on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.