When Dog Co-Parents Go Separate Ways

Mar 06 at 6am

By Amber Schadewald

I’ve been separated from my baby not once, but twice: first due to a breakup, and then because of my apartment’s no-pet policy. Yes, my baby is a dog, but that doesn’t mean my heart didn’t break into a hundred tiny bits on both occasions. For many animal-adoring folks, especially those who aren’t particularly keen on the idea of parenting humans, fur kids are real kids.

My Tegan is a five-year-old Chihuahua that weights four pounds and looks like a rat on stilts. She has beautiful blue fur, bulgy eyes, and tiny toes that smell like tortillas. Ann, her other mother, and I bought Tegan back when she was just a stick of butter with a huge apple head. We became totally smitten for the wee dog and her big attitude, and as a couple without plans to birth offspring, we considered Tegan as our child.   

For many animal-adoring folks, especially those who aren’t particularly keen on the idea of parenting humans, fur kids are real kids. 

Then, four years in, Ann and I broke up. The end of a long-term relationship is devastating in and of itself. But having a dependent added a whole other level of grief, confusion, guilt, and loneliness. Fortunately, we avoided custody drama due to our pre-pet-purchasing agreement: Ann had purchased the pup (partly because she was insistent on the adoption and partly because I was low on cash) and thereby would have ownership if anything were to happen. Our plan was smart, sure, but –fuck me – the hound was suddenly out of my hands.

Amidst the breakup, Ann and I still loved and respected each other as humans. We agreed to be pet co-parents, and our first attempts at doing so became a major bummer. Ringing Ann’s doorbell to claim Tegan was torturous – it was lovely to see the dog, but it also meant seeing my ex. These interactions always ended in a flood of tears. We gave up, temporarily.

Over the next year, I sporadically babysat little “T-bone” as my ex and I tried our best to mend the broken bond, trusting that in due time we would rekindle our friendship. And, thank God, our efforts paid off – now we’re legit BFFs. Tegan began sleeping over for weeks at a time. We trotted to the park, explored the hood, and biked to the beach. My apartment had all the comforts a girl dog could want: a cozy bed, a busy-bee squeaker, chicken treats, and a sunny stoop. Mommy-and-T days were the best.

I discovered that playing co-parent was prime for my single-gal schedule. I could enjoy critter company for a few days and hand her back when I had a busy week of commitments. The dog also became a great reason for Ann and me to hang out. I had my cake and a spoiled canine to eat it, too.

Then came December, when Ann was serendipitously presented with an opportunity to uproot to Melbourne. She said yes, and we immediately panicked: Was Tegan moving to Australia, or would she be bunking with me? Regardless, someone was going to be upset – we just didn’t think it would be the both of us.

Turns out that Australia is free of rabies, which is great news, unless you want to tote Toto into the country. Their strict animal laws meant that Tegan wouldn’t be able to live down under at any time during the next six months – and even then, it would involve extensive vet and embassy visits. Tegan held off on packing her bags and blinked at me with big, watery eyes. The panic escalated, not because I didn’t want to take on FT mom duty, but because my apartment had its own strict rule: no pets.

I’m no stranger to the game of hound hiding – in fact, Tegan was a stowaway for the first two years of her life. Puppy training included an outdoor-only barking policy, a litter box, and lots of secret shuttling – all comings and goings were done with the baby in a messenger bag. While our old landlords hadn’t caught us with pooch in hand, the current stakes were far too high. Eviction in this city? Not an option.

Why are landlords hating on purring kittens and loveable mutts?

I decided to approach my property manger, Debbie, up front with a proposal for a temporary reconsideration: a six-month exception that could perhaps buy enough time to get Tegan Aussie-approved. Unfortunately, Debbie had already given me a no-animal “reminder” two months prior when she discovered Tegan “visiting” the apartment. I e-mailed a respectful plea and included a list of actions I thought could make the deal more appealing.

  • Meet and pet: Tegan’s good looks had earned lots of treats and pardons in the past. I hoped a stroke of her silky fur would melt some hearts.
  • Reputation confirmation: Ann’s landlord agreed to vouch for Tegan’s good behavior.
  • Multitiered approval: I promised to get written permission from all the homies in the building.
  • Payoff: I offered an additional damage deposit. No problem.
  • Zero tolerance: if any complaints were made – barking, poop in the yard – the pup would jet. 

Debbie took a few days to give the proposal solid consideration but kindly refused. Others in the building had recently begged for pets, so giving me a pardon wouldn’t be fair. Being the nice lady that she is, Debbie did offer a surprising solution: Tegan could stay with her daughter’s family in San Carlos. Unfortunately, Chihuahuas aren’t stellar with kids.

Wondering if my pet predicament was common in the city, I asked Debbie about restrictions in the other 100-plus units she manages. She estimates her ratio to be 80/20, with the majority of properties ruling against animals. Why are landlords hating on purring kittens and loveable mutts?

“It’s mostly a noise issue,” she told me. “Pets are wonderful when their owners are home, but when the owners are at work, they whine, cry, and bark. Then, I get complaints from everyone else in the building.”

Unfortunately, the city used to be much friendlier [to pets]. It’s never quite come back. 

Insurance is also a major factor due to the overwhelming number of policies with moratoriums on dogs – a likely response to the unsettling case of Diane Whipple, an SF woman who was mauled to death in 2001 by a fellow tenant’s ferocious dog in the hallway of their apartment building. 

“Unfortunately, the city used to be much friendlier [to pets]. It’s never quite come back. Some of my owners agree to meet the dog and consider it, possibly asking for more rent or a deposit,” Debbie said. “But most are freaked. They don’t want to take a chance.”

Ann and I examined our options, begging friends and brainstorming ways to smuggle Tegan into a foreign country. I considered moving; Ann contemplated staying. Feeling defeated, we called upon our last resort: parents. Ann’s folks live in Wisconsin with two Chihuahuas and a big yard. They agreed to let Tegan join the pack.

Just before the new year, Tegan flew to the snowy Midwest, and a week later, Ann landed in summery Australia. I continue to hold down the middle. And while we all seem to be getting along swimmingly – Tegan has new playmates and a puffy jacket, and Ann is exploring foreign territories – we all miss each other greatly. I’m sure we’ll trot in the same city again some day, but until then, both of us moms really wish Tegan would call more.

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