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Who Keeps the Pet in a Breakup

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Let’s face it, we pet parents are attached to our pets. Maybe they remind us of little kids in some ways? They’re small, cute, and seem needy. And since nearly 70% of US families have at least one fur or feather baby, perhaps they agree with me. But if those adult, romantic relationships go south, then who keeps the pet in a breakup?

365 Pet Insurance polled over 1500 American pet parents in January 2022 to answer that question. They wanted to discover how we handle our pets in a breakup or divorce. However this isn’t a new issue.

For example, in 2013, a lower court judge agreed to a hearing regarding a miniature dachshund in the midst of a couple’s divorce. The reason for the hearing, the judge explained,

“Although Joey the miniature dachshund is not a human being and cannot be treated as such, he is decidedly more than a piece of property.”

The Detroit News

Evolution of the Family Pet

selective focus of an orange tabby cat
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on

Ancient Egyptians were the first to keep cats as pets, recognizing their abilities as mousers. But, in Europe, cats didn’t get popular with the wealthy until the 1700s. And then, by the 1800s, all of the social classes started adopting cats. Also, cats made the journey when the Americas were discovered. Although, they were only viewed as valuable assets to protect the food.

But by the mid-19th century, in the US, the ASPCA formed, followed by the first anti-cruelty laws. And cat stardom only continued with works by artists such as Louis Wain.

girl and puppy sitting on green grass surrounded with plants during daytime
Photo by Leah Kelley on

In 1897, the US Supreme Court ruled that citizen-owned dogs were personal property. Though at the time, people only kept dogs to make money. However that changed, because our society became more urbanized. So eventually dogs became man’s best friend.

And lastly, keeping backyard birds became a movement during both World Wars, when it was Americans’ patriotic duty to keep chickens. Unfortunately, after World War II, many backyard chicken farms dissolved. Since ~ 2000 going forward, backyard chicken keeping is regarded more as a hobby. Further, there are so many sites and blogs dedicated to chicken keeping, that you know the authors view their birds as pets.

Pets as Family

two people with rings on ring fingers and a dog paw on top of their hands
Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya on

As our societies transformed, so too have our pets. Or rather how we view them. We no longer need them to work alongside us as our property, or even for us. Though that doesn’t mean your cats won’t bring you something they caught. Or that your chickens won’t lay eggs. However, it means that we keep our pets for the emotional bonds we share with them.

According to a study in 2015, 95% of those surveyed thought of their pets as family members. But, given the Pandemic, SIP and/or stay-at-home orders, inflation, food scarcity, and resultant uncertainties, the percentage could be even higher now. So it’s no wonder that when couples split up, their pets are often caught in the crossfire.

Some Results of the Survey

woman brushing her pet cat
Photo by cottonbro on

Among the respondents surveyed with 365 Pet Insurance, only 19% have won a pet custody battle, while 12% have lost custody of their pets. Of those who won, most were women. In addition, 55% of participants feel that pet custody should be treated similar to child custody arrangements between divorcing parents.

Regarding a hypothetical split-up, the majority of respondents indicated they would rather share custody of their pets. Also hypothetically, in the event of a split-up, the majority of participants would prefer losing everything, friends and material goods, compared to losing their pets.

Pet Custody

map of the US with 6 states colored in red
Digital art, courtesy of Sarah Smith

Currently there are six states that have laws on pet custody, whereas Rhode Island has pending legislation. Furthermore, both Texas and Alaska have made visitation schedules between previous spouses. Though the majority of states still regard pets as property.

And disgruntled, hurt, and angry former partners or spouses oftentimes take their frustration out on their pet by trying to take the pet away from the other pet parent. Therefore, that person is not only hurting their former partner, but they’re hurting their pet as well.

When determining pet custody or even “property”, depending on where you live, the courts rely upon sales or adoption records, AKC records, veterinary and vaccination records, and insurance.

  • Who purchased or adopted the pet?
  • Who registered the pet?
  • Whose name is on the vaccination and medical records?
  • Who micro-chipped the pet?
  • And who took out insurance on the pet?

Check this site out for more details on what courts will look at to establish pet custody. And for complete results of the survey, go here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Have you ever had a custody battle over one of your pets? Your comments are appreciated. And if you enjoyed this post, please like, share, and please don’t forget to follow!


I breed pure Black Ameraucana chickens and Easter Eggers that are Black Ameraucana mixed with either Cuckoo Maran or Barred Rock. And I donate eggs to people or organizations in need.

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