Here's your pet's pet peeve. Your beloved animals suffer anxiety when you separate or divorce, just as you do. In fact, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals in London has added divorce to the list of events that can lead to "acral lick dermatitis."
Other causes of ALD – a constant chewing, sucking, and licking of a part of the body – are dogs who are isolated or bored, punished continually, or who have nervous and stressed owners. Sean Wensley, a senior vet at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, says, “As a result of such licking, the area can become raw and itchy, which in turn leads to further licking or chewing."
Pets mirror our emotions. If your parrot plucks his feathers feverishly, your poodle pouts with downcast eyes, your calico cat meows mournfully, vets translate these things as a form of depression because, folks, they are "furry" upset by the disruption in the house.
And why shouldn’t they be?
As Wensley says, “Cats and dogs, like young children, are sensitive to adult human emotions and, when these become tense or unpredictable, this can cause stress-related heath problems.”
What are more symptoms?
"Dogs that are stressed can show signs of compulsive disorder,” he says, including chasing their own tails. Cats, he says, “can be prone to 'wool sucking' which, as the term suggests, involves sucking or chewing on woolen items such as blankets.”
Parrots sometimes pull out their own feathers after losing a mate — which, in a way, includes a human live-in companion — or experiencing some other type of trauma.
And that’s not all. The hospital’s studies show that when their owners split, pets can develop serious long-term nervous symptoms, including chewing on and biting themselves.
Animals, like children, need routine. Wensley says that if a pet is shared through joint custody, and will live in two homes, the owners should quickly establish a calm routine, and stick to it. It is something that should be added to the to-do list, along with Consult lawyer, Divvy up finances, Cancel Sabrina’s ballet classes and Buy chicken instead of steak.
Pets tend to not to be considered at all, or just packed into a car and hauled along with the children to their father’s house. The pet can be ignored, not walked or fed. It all adds to the stress on the animal.
Even before the actual divorce or separation, lawyers are encouraging people to add pet provisions to any agreement, so couples are more conscious of their furry family’s needs.
Harvard Law School added a course on animal rights eight years ago and now 40 law schools offer courses. Divorce attorneys now frequently add clauses dealing with pet custody, pet visitation, even pet support (how vet bills will be paid). They have even dealt with the issue of how long treatment should be continued before a pet would be put to sleep.
Fighting over animals can even lead to divorce delays. In Johannesburg, South Africa, divorce attorney Billy Gundelfinger had one case where the couple “settled the residency of the children, they’ve settled the finances, the antiques and the paintings, the cars and the holiday homes, and then they fight over the pet — and one of them says, ‘The whole deal is off, we’re going to court.’ ”
Gundelfinger cited a previous case in which a big divorce, on the brink of settlement, fell apart on the court steps over a Staffordshire terrier. “They both wanted the Staffie ... We started the trial and then, in the tea break, I persuaded my client that this was absurd,” he said. The couple eventually reached a “shared residency” agreement, whereby the dog spent one month with the husband and the next month with the wife.
It seems that the best therapy is awareness. Think of your pet as a valued member of the family, and you won’t be barking up the wrong tree.