In her new book, We Can't Stay Together for the Dogs, author Jennifer Keene helps fur families deal with divorce by Nicole Feliciano
Six years ago I found myself in the middle of an unpleasant divorce. My ex and I couldn't agree on much during the separation. We battled over the condo, the artwork, the address book--you name it. The most distressing disagreement involved our fur child, Fenway, a nine-year-old black Labrador.
Unfortunately, the ex and I couldn't come to terms on a shared-custody arrangement and one summer day I had to say a tear-filled goodbye to Fenway. I often wondered who was best served in this arrangement. As my ex, a busy corporate lawyer didn't have much quality time to give. But since I couldn't meet my ex's stipulations for visitation rights Fenway and I never saw each other again. Fortunately for other couples going through this terrible process there is a new book to smooth the way. We Can't Stay Together for the Dogs, ($17.90 on Amazon) is self-help book for pet parents in the throes of a breakup.
Let's consider the statistics:
88% of American dog owners consider their dogs to be members of their families.
Almost half of divorces involve dogs.
10% of the US population has been divorced (and let's not forget about the millions of couples who break-up each year).
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This all adds up to lots of dogs facing monumental changes in their family composition. When Jennifer Keene found herself in a marriage that wasn't working, she looked for assistance finding the best resolutions for her fur family. The self-help section of Borders didn't have anything to offer this newly single dog owner. Keene thought, "Why isn't there a book for this." And so she wrote one. We Can't Stay Together for the Dogs was the product of her soul searching.
Keene, a Beaverton Oregon dog trainer, takes a comprehensive look at the various solutions for canine custody upon dissolution of the pet parents' relationship. According to Keene there are four outcomes for the "kids":
Part-Time Pet Parenting: One owner assumes full-time responsibility while the other offers support and back-up care. This program works best for exes with a cordial relationship, where one owner wants to take the lead.
Joint Canine Custody: Equal time and spilt financial responsibility for each parent. Exes who can openly communicate and can stick to a schedule are a good fit for this solution.
Splitting the Pack: Families with multiple dogs decide the dogs will live separately. This setup suits families that don't want much interaction and for dogs that won't be bereft when relocated away from their canine siblings.
Single Parenting: One owner assumes full responsibility. Whether due to abandonment or hostility, care lands fully on one pet parent with the other permanently out of the picture.
Keene offers directions on how to decide on the right path. She asks the reader to assess the dogs' needs, as well as the personalities of the humans involved. For instance, Keene challenges someone thinking of going it alone: "Your dog relies on you to be a responsible person. You cannot just decide to go for drinks after work unless you've made plans to have someone let him out and feed him." (p.22)
For those caught up in relationships that have exhausted constructive communication, Keene offers tips on how to navigate abandonment and pup-napping.
Keene has a knack for using clear language to get her message across. Unlike the touchy-feely structure of many self-help books, Keene's work is refreshingly spare. Bullet points make the book a quick and easy reference tool. Numerous case studies provide examples of positive breakups (one couple in the book, Sasha and Al have achieved an exemplary part-time arrangement) and worst-case scenarios.
Beyond relationship advice, the book is packed with helpful training tips (Keene's a Certified Pet Dog Trainer at the Pup-A-Razzi facility) as well as financial worksheets aimed to get owners thinking about long-term planning for their pets. All in all, a helpful tool for confused and frustrated pet parents.
I caught up with the 31-year-old author one afternoon as she took a break from her busy schedule at the training facility (not to mention her schooling--she's working on a writing degree) to talk about what she gained through writing book.
Keene openly shares the lessons learned from her divorce. She feels fortunate; both Keene and her ex "felt strongly that we wanted to do what was best for the dogs. Their solution was to "split the pack." Moxxy, an Australian cattle dog, moved into Keene's new home while Sixxy, a pointer mix, remained with Keene's ex. The dogs still connect for sleepovers and Keene and her ex rely upon each other for support.
Jennifer advises couples in the midst of a break-up to do some self-reflection. It's not enough to know your dog and his personality and activity level. You need to know yourself. Once you've done this work, Keene believes the three c's should be your guide, "communication, compromise and canine-centricity."
Beyond garnering a measure of celebrity (she's been featured on CNN and in USA Today--not too shabby for an author who never completed a writing class beyond high school!), Keene has been given a great gift by writing this book?closure. "This was a difficult situation, but I believe everything happens for a reason, " says Keene, "Things happen to push you to the next phase of your life."
For the single Keene, the next phase involves a new dog, Buffy, a Cavalier King Charles and possibly a new fiction series. Whether it's a divorce like mine, or another type of challenging break-up, Keene's book can go a long way to beginning the next chapter of your life in a positive way.