Custody fight for dog

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I left nursing to go manage my daughter in laws business ( a dog boarding facility) so she could leave and be with her husband, my son, approx 1 1/2 yrs ago. He also has a business 6 hrs away, each of these businesses established before they met and married. After a year of her trying to find someone to run the business, I offered to go help. we did a trial, all liked the situation, so she was able to leave and move with her husband and I assumed managing and operating the business.

When she left she also left a pug dog, one of two female siblings, because she could not house train the dog, was not bonded with her and the pup was living in a cage kennel alone downstairs and outside during the day in daycare yard. I took the dog, bonded with her, loved her, successfully house trained her and have had her with me everyday and night for 1 1/2 yrs.

My DIL became unhappy she says with the way I was handling the business and decided to move back to the kennel and I was to leave. When I left I took the pug with me. She called the police and they determined it was not a criminal matter. So my DIL began insisting my son get the dog from me. When he refused to get involved she stopped talking to him, even on his birthday. So we are going on about 5 weeks.

A few days after she moved back to kennel her father suddenly died. So I had left, took the pug her father died and she is so upset and angry has threatened divorce if my son does not do something. I am very attached to the pug and love her so much. And I am refusing to just give her back by demand, a dog she has not really paid any attention to- until now.

This situation has become very painful for my son and he called me tonight crying. He has talked to me and says if I give her the dog at least it would take that issue out of the situation but if I can not do that could I at least talk to her and tell her I am not going to respond to her demands he do something. I called her tonight and she answered the phone surprisingly. I told her I would like her and I to see a family counselor and get some help talking this situation through, that going through other family members and her husband was not helping and is very painful for him and harmful to all. I said she could pick someone she liked and I would go. I told her I really wanted to communicate with her and try to work out a solution.

In reply she called me names insulted me and I ignored those comments and said please just think about it. I expressed repeatedly that yes I really did want to work out a solution but that I love this dog very much she is my companion and it is not easy for me to just give her away and I did not understand why suddenly she was so important when no one has paid any attention to her but me.

My son is in a lot of pain about her refusing to talk with him and I really do want to help if I can. I am not sure giving the dog back through my son is the answer. But I am very open to listening to what the right action is for me to take so this family conflict can be resolved. How did I become so responsible for all these problems- or am I? Is it a good idea to give the dog back? Would that solve all these problems between them? I do not believe she will decide to talk with a therapist with me. She told me just give me my dog back! Yet I will encourage it because maybe that person would be somebody she would trust and she would be able to talk with eventually about other things- like her father recently dying.

Also her mother has become involved, is telling both of them I really want to see them get a divorce and that is why I am keeping the dog.She calls me leaving messages to this effect. Now I do not call her back. She is not helping and perhaps is hurting possibility of her daughter and I working through this. Whole situation way out of perspective I think and to much pain for all.So I really do not know what to do and this is why I am writing. I am perplexed,to emotionally involved, and really would like an objective opinion on how to handle the situation. Or some clarity as to maybe the main issues here. Thank you for your time.

A: There’s a saying: “Let no good deed go unpunished.” I can’t tell exactly what is going on but I’m pretty sure it’s not about the dog. People’s behavior always makes a kind of sense even when it looks like nonsense. In this situation, one guess is that your daughter-in-law was actually happy with the original distant arrangement she had with your son. She couldn’t refuse your offer of help without it looking peculiar to everyone (including herself) so she accepted it and moved to be with him even though her heart wasn’t in it. If that was indeed the case, it’s not surprising she found a reason to move back after only a year. The relationship with your son isn’t good. Then her father died. Rather than deal with these two very difficult issues, she’s focusing on the dog. Her mother may have gotten into the situation because she can’t deal with the death of her husband either. Your daughter-in-law isn’t interested in joining you for family therapy because that would surface all the real issues.

Or – It could be that you are the lightning rod for all the issues she has with your son. Going after the dog and hurting you is a way to hurt him.

Or – It really is about the dog. She may feel you took advantage of the situation. Have you tried offering to buy the dog to see if that’s the problem?

I suggest you follow through with going to a family counselor, even if it means going yourself. You need someone to help you sort through this mess. A counselor who has the opportunity to really get to know you will be in a much better position than I am to help you decide what is going on and what to do about the dog. I hope you and the counselor will invite your son and, eventually, your daughter-in-law to join you. Often families need someone to pave the way for them. Once they see that that person is getting some genuine support and good advice, the rest of the family often follows. Even if they don’t, you could certainly use someone in your corner right now.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Custody fight for dog. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/20/custody-fight-for-dog/

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