Sunday, February 26, 2023

The of Roles of Pets in High Conflict Divorce and Parental Alienation Custodial Interference


In a recent "Psychiatry Podcast with Dr. David Puder" listen about Parental Alienation with guests Alyse Price-Tobler and Mandy Matthewson, PhD entitled "Episode 159: What is Parental Alienation?", an interesting mention was made: the role of animals/pets when it comes to Parental Alienation.

Through all the research I've done over the past 5 years on the topic of Parental Alienation, I had never given the topic of pets and the roles they play much thought. 

When one is dealing with the effects of being an alienated parent, pets seem like an afterthought given the daily fight to be reunited with your children.

Listening to that simple line in the podcast, about how alienating parents will go as far as to not allow the child to have relationships with even animals, the pets from the targeted sent me down a rabbit hole of research.

Mostly because it was the first time that I had heard anyone share something so on the nose as to what my son Alexander and our dog, Malia, have gone through.

I had just never considered how common an ocurrance it was: alienating parents don't just block healthy relationships between the other parent and child...and often that targeted parents side of the family...but they also pets of the targeted parent.

When people go through a divorce, especially high-conflict divorces, we never give much credence to the effects the divorce has on the pets and especially the children who have grown up with these pets.

There's 2 entities involved here to consider then. 

First let's look at the effects on pets, especially dogs.

Dogs are highly social animals that live with a pack mentality. When a dog is part of family, they learn the social order starting with who is the alpha, and then learn their role in the pack order. In the case when there are just two people in a relationship, and they have a dog, the animal learns its place in as #3 in the order. Once children are added to the family, the dog learns that it's place is now after that of a newborn.

When there is a divorce and one owner leaves, it's common for dogs to go through separation anxiety and depression.

Imagine being in the role of the animal: you have an alpha in the home, often a father, and then there is a divorce and that alpha leaves. It becomes a different dynamic in the family and the animal is forced to adapt.

In cases in which a pet owner leaves and there is a change in the family dynamic, the best advice is to make sure the animal remains social. Take them for more walks to be around others. Go to the dog park more often so that they can socialize with other dogs and other humans. It will help with any depression the animal is going through.

But what seems to happen in the majority of cases, is exactly that: one owner leaves and the dog remains with the other owner and the children.

It's in situations of Parental Alienation when there are the potential complexities of custodial interference, regarding one parent allowing access to pets connected to the targeted parent.

This is my story regarding the life of Malia dog, the family dynamic before Alexander was born, the 2 years Alexander and Malia lived together, and the alienation put in place by the alienating parent in Alexander's relationship with his dog Malia.

I adopted Malia when she was 8 months old in Santa Monica, CA, back on February 15, 2009. In August 2010, we moved to Buenos Aires and started a life there, meeting my ex-wife in August 2011.

Malia is an extremely social animal, so she quickly becomes engaged with people in my life. In fact, almost 15 years later with her, she seems to think that when I am in a relationship with a woman, and that woman comes to our home, Malia seems to think she is there to see her, not me. It's something I love about Malia dog, that she is so welcoming.

When Malia and my ex-wife met in August 2011 in Buenos Aires, they instantly connected. 

I actually met my ex-wife for a coffee one early afternoon as part of a long dog walk I was doing in the Recoleta area of Buenos Aires. 

So the day my ex-wife met me, she met Malia as well. 

It was probably fitting, given that with my lifestyle of working form home since 2006, Malia has been primarily with me every moment these past 14.5 years. 

She got very close to Malia then, and when we went to Villa General Belgrano in Argentina 2 months later for Oktoberfest in 2011, she even purchased a Bavarian hat from a family that I bought one originally for their baby.

As the relationship progressed, I eventually moved to Chile at the same time that my now girlfriend was returning home her home country after her tour in Argentina as a diplomat. 

I arrived in Chile in December 2011 and rented an apartment, with Malia dog, in Providencia. My now girlfriend would visit daily on her way home from work in the center of the city, as I was living close to a Metro stop. So she and Malia were in constant contact.

In February 2012, I moved in with my girlfriend in Las Condes, with Malia.

Malia dog adapted quickly to the new home, as at this point, it was her 6th apartment with me in just 3 years!

My girlfriend and Malia became even closer during this time.

There were some initial issues at the beginning as she had never lived with a dog in the house, as he childhood dogs lived outdoors or locked away in the kitchen area as they were not trained to not go to the bathroom inside in the other parts of the house.

So it was the first time my girlfriend had to deal with pet fur. 

She had also been raised by nannies and have 6 day a week housekeepers keeping the home clean while growing up, so it was an OCD trigger for her that there would be pet hair on the floor. Luckily she took out her conflicts on me and not Malia. Eventually, she became more accepting to the fact that some dogs shed and that there might be fur on the floors. Malia is not permitted on furniture so it was limited to only the floors, so my girlfriend adapted. 

In time, she treated Malia as if she was her own child, and that was fantastic. She loved her, would buy her clothes, blankets and beds. 

We were married in November 2012, and Malia was our ring bearer. My now fiance even sewed a lavender cloth dog leash for Malia to have, a matching ribbon to wear, and a lavender lace bag to carries the rings. Malia matched the wedding theme colors!

In March 2013, the 3 of us moved to Croatia for her work mission there. 

In 2014, we were living in a wooded area near the city center, and one night Malia became very sick. She had been hiking earlier that day and that night she woke us up in paid and had extremely bloody diarrhea. It was the first time Malia had been so sick and it was my wife who seemed the most worried.

We took Malia to the hospital immediately and then went home to try to get some sleep. My plan for the next day since I had more time flexibility than her, was to goto the hospital to be with Malia.

To my surprise, my wife skipped work and spent the day with me at the hospital with Malia.

Malia was hospitalized for 4-5 days and I was there for all of it. But it actually took me telling my wife to prioritize her career and goto work that second day because had I not said that to her, she would have gone to the hospital the next day as well. She loved and cared for Malia so much that she didn't want to be away.

When Alexander was born in January 2016, my wife still treated Malia as if she was her own child...but now as if she was the "big sister" to Alexander.

Alexander was the top priority, and Malia understood this from day one.

Malia would run in to check on Alexander in his crib is he was crying. She would sleep underneath his crib on the hardwood floor. She was that perfect "big sister" that my wife had wanted for Alexander.

Best of all Alexander and Malia were inseparable, always playing together and Alexander was always so happy and laughing with Malia.

I share this history, because it's to show how loving my now ex-wife had been to Malia and the strong bond between the two of them. She was a mother to Malia.

We moved back to Chile in January 2018, now a family of 4 coming home. 

I let all of my clients go to opt to be a stay at home dad to raise Alexander. 

So while his mother was at work, it was me getting up to get Alexander ready for the day, taking him to kindergarden daily with Malia and picking him up a few hours later. Malia would accompany Alexander and I on all of our daily walks and the other kids at kidergarden loved seeing Malia dog sitting outside, waiting for Alexander with her tail wagging, and then rushing to him to greet him daily. While I was preparing dinner for the family in the kitchen, Malia would sit next to Alexander nearby at the table Alexander was drawing on. 

I've been focusing on all of the positives while writing this, highlighting this7 year period of my previous relationship and marriage. But it was a difficult period in my life due to the marriage.

So on September 11, 2018, when I had to move out of the home and no longer be with Alexander daily, it was heartbreaking.

What made things worse was that it was that day that the Parental Alienation started. 

I have never been alone with my son since that day. The first rationale given was that my wife feared that I would kidnap Alexander and bring him to the US and that she'd never see him again.

But on September 11, 2018, I had a bag packed, I had Malia and her travel bag, and we moved out.

My wife permitted 1 visit per week at a park with her mother present, and then a nanny she hired to monitor the visits. So Alexander was happy to see Malia and I for these short 1 hour visits, despite the unfortunate conditions and frequency of visits.

But then the visits stopped and Alexander and I were not able to see each other. 

On occasion I would get a random text from my wife saying that she and Alexander were somewhere and that I could come see them. It might be a random trip to the movies or the park. But I was not always in a position to be able to bring Malia with me for Alexander to see.

After a period of about 6-8 months, I was granted some visits. For the first one, I brought Malia to meetup with Alexander and he was so happy. I was fortunate to have been able to video record it as well. My babies had been reunited!

But consistency in visits never happened. 

There would be stretches of 8-9 months without me being able to see Alexander. And during that time, Alexander was unable to see Malia.

In wasn't long after I moved out that the signs of direct custodial interference from my now ex-wife against Malia started.

It's why I was pleased to learn more about the topic of custodial interference (blocking) of animals by alienating parents. In all of my conversations with other targeted parents, we are all so focused on our kids and our families that are being blocked, that we never discus the sadness our children go through being separated from their pets as well.

What are some of the signs that custodial interference and parental alienation involving a pet of the child is becoming a factor? The same as with parents: replacement.

In many cases of parental alienation, there's an instinct by the alienating parent to find a replacement "father". Upon dating after the divorce, the alienating parent will too quickly introduce the child to the person the parent is seeing. It's common for alienating mothers to bring a man they are dating home early and rather than referring to them by the man's first name, the alienating mother with tell the child to refer to the man as "Uncle ____".

But replacement isn't limited to only humans. It happens with pets as well.

It wasn't too long after I moved out that my ex-wife told me that she was going to get a new dog for Alexander. 

I explained to my ex that it's not the healthiest option since Alexander is coping with so much change having had his father move out as well as his dog. Her stance, her words, were that the new dog was to "replace Malia".

I again went through 8-9 month periods with no visits, had to move to another city to be near Alexander at one point, always while dealing with the effects of a slow-moving court process.

I was eventually able to get some regular visits for a few months with Alexander. So he, Malia and myself were able to spend time together. 

When I would return to Alexander's mothers home to drop him off, there were some rare occasions where she would invite us in, usually because Alexander insisted and wanted to show me things of his around the home.

But it was at this time that I had to see that not only was my ex-wife angry at me for the marriage not working, but that she was willing to extend that anger to my dog, Malia.

Malia would go into the kitchen and there would be a bowl of dog food on the floor in the same spot that Malia had eaten from for a year of her life when she lived in the exact same home. She's a dog who has never lived with another dog, so she does not understand that it is not "her" food.

The wrath upon Malia from my ex-wife was overly harsh.

She's kicked Malia to get her out.

She's picked up Malia, a then 12 year old senior dog, and thrown her out the door.

All of that love that me ex-wife had for Malia from the day they met in August 2011 ended the day I moved out in September 2018. It was all gone. Malia was connected to me, so Malia was a problem for her now as well.

It wasn't long after that she went as far as involving the court to try to eliminate Alexander's relationship with his dog, Malia.

During a visit at my apartment, Alexander was playing a little too rough with Malia and she nipped at him, causing a small bite mark on the top of his hand. 

Photo evidence presented to the court to block Alexander from being exposed to Malia

I'm the first to be more protective of my son that anything else in the world. But I'm also a logical parent to know that since my son wasn't complaining about it, that it should not be treated as a big deal. I sent Malia away so that she knew she did something wrong. And I explained to Alexander that he has to be more gentle with animals, as he normally was, because even when it's your dog, it's possible that you might do something that causes some pain to the animal and that they react.

But the incident, as miniscule as it was, became a rationale for my ex-wife to try to suspend visitations.

She got the police and the courts involved. 

She wanted me to get rid of Malia.

She then demanded that Malia be locked in a room where Alexander could have no access to her.

The court therapist got involved and needed to put in extra efforts to get my ex-wife to understand that minor child-pet conflicts like this happen, and that it was minor.

I kept Malia at home for the first visits, which resulted in Alexander getting upset and not understanding why he couldn’t see his dog.

Luckily the court family therapist that my ex-wife and I saw was able to get my ex-wife to change her ways.

Irrational fears. 

But also a common tactic in parental alienation.

In October 2022, Malia fell sick with kidney failure. I immediately contacted my ex-wife to tell her so that she could arrange for at least Alexander to see Malia one last time as it was a negative prognosis for her. She did not respond. Luckily after a week in the hospital, Malia became better and now lives a stable life despite strict food restrictions. 

Alexander and I haven't seen each other in 2 years. He has not seen Malia over that time as a result. She turns 15 in June, so I have no way of knowing if he will ever see his dog again.

It all comes back to Parental Alienation and the myriad of tactics that are used. 

In the world of an alienating parent, they do not want the child to have any contact with the other parent.

They don't want the child to "miss" the other parent.

They go out of their way to disturb whatever court-ordered visits are allowed, and this means exactly what is sounds like: the other parent has to have their phone on them at all times to respond to the flurry of text messages and phone calls that come in, at a time when the child is supposed to be bonding with the other parent.

And in the case of animals, these court ordered visits are also the only time that children get to spend with their pets who live at the other parents home.

The tactic with alienating parents is to make the court-ordered visits unpleasant for the child emotionally, so that they chose not to want the visits. 

Parental alienation puts all parties through a number of changes. And in this case, it's showing that that a once loving "parent" of a pet can change their stance overnight.

For as difficult as it is for the children of divorce when it comes to situations like this involving a parent trying to limit their access to a pet they grew up with, parental alienation tactics like this cause equal pain for children with step-siblings.

It's devastating, but many children go through the same process Alexander has had to endure not just being able to see his father and his pet dog, but many other targeted parents go through the same in not being able to see their child AND a targeted parent not allowing that child to maintain relationships with their step-siblings.

For any targeted parents going through anything similar, I've love to hear your stories and pray for positive outcomes!


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