Like a prenuptial agreement, the aptly named “pet-nuptial” (pet custody) agreement can
assist you in keeping your cherished canine companion should your current relationship
Whether you’re divorcing a spouse, breaking up with a partner or moving out on a
roommate, if you’ve owned a dog together, gird yourself for a potential battle over the
custody of that dog. The key to resolving this issue and being on the winning end of it is to
have a “pet-nuptial” agreement already in place.
Since the law in most states regards pets not as family members but as personal property,
protecting your rights requires foresight on your part. When you have a “pet-nuptial”
agreement, a court – if it comes to that – will, in all likelihood, enforce it unless you live in
one of a handful of states with pet custody laws. If so, the judge will, as in any child custody
battle, make a decision based on the best interests of the disputed pet.
Without a pre-arranged agreement, you’ll have to prove why YOU’RE the one entitled to
keep the dog rather than your spouse, partner or roommate. Are you able, then, to provide
the answers to the following questions?
Who actually adopted or purchased the dog in question? Have the necessary receipts,
Did you or “the other party” have the dog before the start of your “arrangement?”
Are there any children involved who are attached to this dog? If so, where will they be
Who plays the greater role in feeding, walking and playing with the dog?
Who takes the dog to the veterinarian?
Who pays the bills -- from food, toys, beds, clothing and equipment to veterinary expenses,
medications, supplements and therapies if applicable?
Who has (more) room for the dog in their home or apartment?
Who has a backyard for the dog?
Is one of you moving to an apartment that doesn’t allow dogs?
Does either party have a work schedule that prevents them from spending quality time
with the dog?
Which party has bonded with the dog or is the one the dog always follows around your
Has either party ever exhibited any cruelty towards your dog or any other animal?
To keep your pet dispute from ever going to court, consider using mediation or arbitration
instead. This way you can hopefully work together and come to an amicable arrangement.
Another solution is an agreement that either provides for joint custody of your dog or for
sole custody with the other party given “visitation rights.” Joint custody agreements are far
from ideal since pets, like children, are often traumatized by the dissolution of a marriage
or partnership. A custody agreement where your dog is shuttled back and forth between
two homes seldom works satisfyingly for any party – particularly the dog.
If your spouse already had the dog before you got married, it will be difficult for you to get
custody of him because he’s not considered “marital property” but your spouse’s “separate
And yet, in some cases, you may emerge victorious. Examples: if you spend the most time
with your dog, you could get custody of him despite the fact that your spouse pays most of
the vet bills. If children are involved, and you’re getting custody of them in one of the few
states with pet custody laws, a judge will want the dog to remain with the children. In other
states, custody could be split, with the children going to one parent and the dog going to the
Because pet custody is an evolving legal issue, consider hiring a family attorney to help you.
Ensure that you have photos and videos of you and your dog sharing a series of bonding
experiences. Ensure that you have witnesses eager to testify that YOU are his primary
guardian and playmate. Ensure that you have records of or receipts for every purchase
you’ve made towards his care and well being.
In short, if you have a dog and an intact marriage or partnership, put a “pet-nuptial”
agreement in place NOW so that you’re protected should the relationship ever end.
Dogs and Leptospirosis
A disease potentially harmful to dogs, leptospirosis is caused by a bacterium called
Leptospira interrogans. Omni-present in the environment because it’s borne by numerous
animals, including rats and skunks, raccoons, feral cats and domestic livestock, the
organism is carried in their kidneys and excreted through their urine. Dogs will often
contract the disease by swimming in stagnant water or by drinking from contaminated
puddles of water.
Known to exist as well in dampness and in mud, especially following heavy rainfalls, more
cases of leptospirosis are diagnosed during the late summer and fall, while winter tends to
lower the risk since the bacteria can’t tolerate freezing temperatures.
Although many infected dogs never exhibit any signs of illness, the disease is usually most
severe in unvaccinated puppies younger than 6 months of age, and takes between four and
twelve days following exposure for them to feel sick. While the symptoms may vary from
dog to dog, they usually include lethargy, poor appetite, fever, vomiting, and increased
thirst or urine production. Some dogs may also become jaundiced.
Veterinarians diagnose the disease by running blood tests (these will reveal changes in
kidney values or both kidney and liver values) and urine tests that look specifically for
leptospirosis. They then typically prescribe antibiotics to treat the active infection and
assist in keeping an infected dog from becoming a carrier of the organism.
Unfortunately, leptospirosis is also a zoonotic disease, which means it’s contagious to
humans. While the most common way for people to contract the disease is through
exposure to infected dog or rat urine, any contaminated bodily fluid, including vomit and
saliva, can be the culprit. If your own dog is ill with leptospirosis, it’s essential, then, to
observe such hygiene protocols as wearing protective gloves when cleaning up after him
and not allowing him to lick your face until he’s fully recovered.
Familiar with the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Never
was it more applicable than when dealing with leptospirosis. Prevent your own dogs from
contracting the disease by eliminating their access to contaminated water, by keeping your
property free of food, and by using durable garbage containers to reduce attracting rats,
raccoons or feral cats to your area.
If you believe that your dog is at high risk of contracting the disease, you might consider
having him vaccinated for leptospirosis. The American Animal Hospital Association,
however, considers it a “non-core” vaccine, only recommending it if a dog is very likely to
be exposed to leptospirosis. Not only does its effectiveness vary from short term to longer
lasting, there have been reports of reactions to the vaccine that also vary -- from minor to
While a vaccination doesn’t always prevent the disease, it does make the disease much
milder should infection occur. There’s also the potential for vaccinated dogs infected with
leptospirosis to become long-term carriers of the disease, with some experiencing a more
frequent incidents of reproductive failures and stillbirths.
As with all matters concerning your cherished canine companion, discuss the vaccination
with your vet. Your decision should be based on your lifestyle, whether your community is
experiencing any cases of leptospirosis, as well as your vet’s own experiences – positive and
negative -- with dogs and the vaccine.
Woe to those careless doggy owners who leave temptation – most famously socks – within easy gulping reach of their curious canine companions.
Notorious for eating items they shouldn’t, dogs can cheerfully chew and swallow almost anything.
If your precocious pup did indeed swallow a sock and he’s a large dog, he may simply vomit it back up – almost immediately or within a day or two. If he doesn’t, the sock may pass neatly through his intestines and eventually be eliminated. Because this could take several days, you must carefully check his stool for that sock every time he moves his bowels, and paws crossed, find it sooner rather than later! But if you don’t find it or if your dog seems out of sorts, promptly take him to the vet.
If, on the other hand your dog is small, rather than wait, one option is to bring him directly to your vet to have the sock removed from his stomach by using an endoscope. This is a long, thin tube with a miniature light and camera at the end that goes down your dog’s throat and into his stomach. The missing sock is then extracted with a pair of specially designed forceps.
Unfortunately, in some cases, that errant sock might become lodged in your dog’s stomach. According to experts, when the stomach empties out, food is the first to be eliminated while indigestible items are the last. A sock or any other foreign object can, therefore, remain in a dog’s stomach and cause problems. Why? Just because he swallowed it doesn’t mean he can throw it up or eliminate it, and if it’s too large to enter his intestinal tract, it literally bounces around, resulting in extreme discomfort.
Since many ingested objects are difficult to see on x-rays, and since dogs often swallow things without their owners even realizing it, vets will usually investigate further by using that same endoscopic procedure. How often has a vet, when searching for bowel disease or a chronic inflammation, been surprised to find that the culprit is someone’s underwear (be wary of that elastic band) or a tennis ball instead!
The most unpleasant and potentially life-threatening result of your dog’s swallowing a foreign object is an intestinal obstruction -- where the item lodges somewhere in his intestines and causes a blockage that requires surgery to remove it. What’s difficult about an intestinal obstruction, however, is that you might not realize your dog has one if you didn’t actually see him swallowing something that object.
What, then, are the classic signs of an obstruction? If your dog keeps vomiting and vomiting and he’s neither eating nor drinking. If your dog never vomits, then he suddenly starts vomiting several times a week. Consider both scenarios to be medical emergencies.
And, in conclusion, should you witness your dog swallow a battery, a sharp or a very large object, visit the vet immediately.
The Downside of Doggy Doors
The benefits of doggy doors, particularly those with screened flaps, permitting your precious pup to exit and enter your house in your absence, are, all too often, outweighed by their drawbacks.
Curious? Concerned? If so, consider some of the following downsides of doggy doors.
Your dog may bark more: With unlimited access to a doggy door, your dog can easily be tempted to run outside at the slightest sound and start barking. Before long, this behavior will become a pattern. The paw-tential results? Unhappy neighbors complaining about your dog’s excessive barking during the day when you’re not at home. Unhappier neighbors complaining about his randomly barking at night, eventually branding him a “nuisance barker”, thereby allowing Animal Control to intervene and fine you.
Your dog may escape: If granted unfettered 24-hour access to an inadequately fenced yard, he can readily escape (was that a squirrel he saw … a cat … another dog?), race into the road and be hit by a car, or even worse, run off, never to be seen again. Far too many agile and athletic dogs can, with the greatest of ease, leap a low fence and bolt. And for those less adept dogs, digging and burrowing UNDER the fence works equally as well.
Your dog may become aggressive: Another byproduct of incessive backyard barking should your dog roam about unsupervised, is frustration, and potentially aggression. When he sees other dogs go past or approach the fence -- from mesh and chain link fences to widely spaced metal picket fences -- not only will he begin to bark but, quite possibly, “fence fight” with them. He may even exhibit aggression towards people walking too near the fence, youngsters riding by on their bicycles and neighborhood children verbally teasing him or baiting him by poking their fingers through the spaces.
If your dog shows any signs of either canine or human aggression – or simple boredom -- keep him indoors when you’re not at home and have a dog walker take him for one or two walks a day. Or better still, hire an experienced pet sitter to bring him outside to the yard to potty, rewarding his “good behavior” and redirecting his attention at the first signs of aggression. The pet sitter can also have soft music playing to muffle some of the intrusive noises from outside, but most importantly, relieve his boredom by stimulating his brain and keeping him constructively engaged by solving puzzles of various kinds.
Your dog may be stolen: Purebreds, in particular, are as desirable as they are expensive, and are, therefore, easy targets for those eager to make a profit by stealing and selling them. If your purebred dog has unsupervised access to the yard, especially if you’re not there, someone can stealthily unlatch the gate, open it or jump over the fence if it’s low enough, and leave with your dog in the blink of an eye.
Doggy doors are entry points for burglars: A door large enough to accommodate a large dog is an open invitation for a thief to squeeze through it when you’re away, perhaps pepper spray your pet and proceed to ransack your house.
Doggy doors are entry points for other animals: Both domestic animals (cats and other dogs) and an entire alphabet of wildlife will instinctively follow the scent of food, even dog food left near the opening of a doggy door. If your dog can get in and out of it, so can they, and since most wildlife scavengers are notoriously unfriendly and potential carriers of disease, they can seriously harm both you and your dog.
Doggy doors are exit points for small children: Older toddlers can, all too easily, mimic the way your dog gets in and out of them and, if left unsupervised, escape just as easily into the backyard with potentially dangerous consequences.
In short, never leave YOUR cherished canine companion unattended outdoors when the safest place for him is, paws down, inside your house.
But if you feel a doggy door is a MUST, erect a sturdy fence (e.g. a 6-foot-high stockade wood fence) with a door that bolts securely on the inside around your yard and install the highest grade doggy door that locks as well.