People fight like cats and dogs during a divorce, and my divorce was no different. Dividing joint property according to the law in our state wasn’t a big deal, but dividing the dog was a real dilemma. Tiffany, our jointly parented dog, had lived with my husband for the three years before our divorce while I was going to law school. It had been a mutual decision that she’d be better off with him than coping with being alone for long periods of time while I was in classes.
Our show down in court was devastating to me. Here I was a newly minted lawyer, and my ex knew more about getting custody of a dog than I did. I didn’t even think the Judge would deal with the matter, but he did. He treated Tiffany like any other piece of property and John was the person who’d cared for this property and I was the one who abandoned it.
John had pages and pages of evidence showing he was the sole financial provider, caregiver, and companion to Tiffany and I was a selfish person who went to the beach instead of spending time with her dog after finals. It was the beginning of post-divorce wars that people with two-legged-kids go through. Visitation would be granted to me, but I’d have to arrange it at John’s convenience. I could only hope my future as a lawyer would fare better than my day in court as a divorce litigant. I handed over the keys to the beach house, relinquished my rights in our business, gave up many material possessions, and John walked away with Tiffany’s leash in his hand.
As for me and my ex-dog and ex-husband things turned out okay though. He took Tiffany back to Hilton Head, South Carolina where she loved to run after birds on the beach and walk in the evenings with John. I had visitation every year and sometimes more and she never forgot me. As time went on and I was busy establishing a legal career, travelling and working long hours, I accepted that the right decision had been made. I’d think of her safe and content with a person I once loved very much and knew he loved her and would never let her down.
Of course, the time came when I got the call I will never forget on July 15, 1999, the day John Kennedy Jr., his wife and her sister perished in a plane crash off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. While John and I had remained mostly cordial after our divorce, we were not close, but when he said hello, I knew something was wrong. With a halting voice and obvious crying, he told me that Tiffany was gone. He relayed how the past months he’d had to carry her up and down the stairs. He told me how she had no energy, slept most of the time, and described a most desolate situation. He told me that the day before she’d quit eating, and had gotten very sick.
He’d taken her to the vet and was given a very grim prognosis, so he took her home and prepared to say goodbye. He told me he’d spent several hours talking to her, stroking her fur, and showing her pictures of the three of us. He’d let her lick ice cubes and then he carried her down the steps for the last time. He put her in the passenger seat of his convertible and took her for one last drive to the beach she loved. Through his tears he assured me she had not been in pain as he carried her to the sand and sat down and held her as the sea birds gathered. John said Tiffany sniffed the sea air…looked at the birds and put her head on his chest as if to say she was ready to leave…no use looking at birds you can’t run after anymore. And now…she was gone.
I cried for everything lost with her passing. I cried for the end of my marriage that I’d never grieved for. I cried for the little puppy that my nephew had brought to me in Columbia, South Carolina, saying in his small kindergarten voice, “Aunt Pat, I found you a dog.”
I cried and cried…remembering the time as a small puppy she threw-up in my new car and seemed frightened I would be angry…I wasn’t. I cried remembering the night after she was spayed when I stayed up all night with her giving her ice chips. I cried seeing her burying her treats in the yard when she first came to live with us like she was saving them in case there was no food one day. I remembered her riding in my bike basket her soft fur blowing in the wind. I cried for all the memories I didn’t get to make with her because of decisions I‘d made. But I didn’t cry for the life she’d had with John…it was the best one she could have lived.
If you can walk away from a divorce or the end of a relationship knowing that the right decision was done for your dog then you’ll have no regrets over her. Regrets about other things…we all have them, but we don’t have to have them about our dog if we keep her best interest foremost and we provide for her needs. Tiffany brought us together in the end…we were able to let go of a lot of bitterness and remorse. Grieving over our dog enabled us to mourn for what we also lost as a couple, but it enabled us to move on. We were just too tired to run after birds we no longer wanted to catch.
Tiffany and me during one of my visits on the beach at Hilton Head.