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After a breakup, is sharing custody of a pet a good idea?

A Havanese is at the center of custody

A Havanese is at the center of custody questions. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Dorottya Mathe

Q My daughter and her former boyfriend “share” their 4-year-old Havanese named Oliver. He is the sweetest, most loving dog ever. After the breakup, Oliver would spend a week with my daughter and then a week with the former boyfriend. The drop-off point for Oliver is a doggy day care center. This has been going on for almost two years. During the last holiday, Oliver stayed with my daughter for two months before he went to the former boyfriend’s house. When he returned, he seemed confused and took time to settle down. His toys also didn’t seem familiar to him. He has since settled back into his routine. Could this sharing cause issues for Oliver?

—Tom, Miller Place

A Dogs thrive on the day-to-day routine of their lives, but they also like adventures, as long as they can depend on the people who care for them. While I see no problem in sharing households, house sharing may not be for every dog. If there is consistency, then Oliver may be fine with it.

Your daughter and former boyfriend should discuss maintaining the same routine at each household, so he will adjust more quickly. They should also pack his toys, blankets, beds and other accouterments, so that everything goes with him. If he is with the people he loves, maintains a similar routine in each household and has his belongings, Oliver may thrive in this dual-household environment.

If, however, they observe Oliver getting stressed, depressed or confused by all this, then one person should maintain custody of Oliver and the other should have visitation. Just like divorced parents, they need to make decisions that are in the best interest of Oliver.

Q Nancy of Bridgehampton had a concern over how to travel with, as one relocates, feral cats. By forcing a feral animal to travel, one is submitting it to life-threatening stresses. Though it makes the humans feel good that they are caring for the animal, they’re creating an extremely stressful life for the animal. Forcing feral (anything) to be cooped up in some shed is absolutely not what those cats are used to. Please tell your readers not to force square pegs into round holes.

— Bart, Freeport

A I don’t advocate moving feral cats either. Relocation should be a last resort. It’s always better if someone else can take over caring for them.

If someone has been taking care of feral cats, however, and knows these cats will not have a caretaker when they themselves move, and if they are willing to go to the extraordinary lengths of taking them with them, then I want to provide some suggestions on how they can do it to reduce the stress for everyone.

Feral cats are domestic cats that someone abandoned on the street or are the result of their offspring. As a result, feral cats are not like wild animals who can survive on their own but are dependent on humans for their survival. Nancy bought property and plans to only use the shed as a transitional space until they settle into their new environment.

Here are a few other letters from people who tried relocating feral cats and were successful:

Dear Cathy: I saw the letter from Nancy, Bridgehampton, who was looking for ways to move her feral cats with her. It’s not really that hard. I have moved feral cats with me when I moved. You can feed them in large dog crates, and then close the crate while they’re eating. If they’re really skittish, the best thing is to trap them in a Have-a-Heart trap, and then move them into a large dog crate with a litter box.

— Christine, Tucson, Arizona

Dear Cathy: Please advise Nancy from Bridgehampton to not let the cats out of crates in the hotel or car. Alley Cat Allies ( has loads of valuable information on feral cats. Please recommend it.

— Toby, Holbrook

Dear Cathy: It’s refreshing to learn of people who care (for cats) rather than abandon them. They sell those small outdoor-style cages to allow cats to be in the outside world. Maybe they could find one to accommodate the kitties, place a kitty pan in it, and make sure it’s structurally sound so they could move it to the room in one piece without having to release cats.

— Gail, Huntington Station

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.

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