IN RECENT YEARS, Dr. Amy Marder, a veterinarian practicing in Lexington, has found herself called upon to decide which human "parent" a pet prefers.At first, I thought that this was some sort of parody or joke. But this appears in the Boston Globe, a reputable newspaper.
Pet custody disputes have become an increasingly common fixture in divorce cases and Marder, an animal behavior specialist, has consulted in several. To do a proper evaluation, she likes to spend at least an hour and a half with the couple and the pet. She asks the owners a barrage of questions: which of the two spends more time with the animal, who plays with it more, who feeds it. She asks about the pet's upbringing, its temperament, how much it exercises.
Marder frowns on so-called "calling contests," a method used by lawyers in some custody cases, in which the owners stand at opposite ends of a room and call the pet to see which way it will go. She prefers to observe the animal's body language as it interacts with its owners. She looks at whether it sits closer to one or the other, and how it reacts when each pets it.
At the end of the session, Marder makes her recommendation, based not only on who she thinks would take better care of the pet, but whom she has decided the pet has a stronger bond with -- the same sort of considerations that would go into deciding a child-custody case. Sometimes she recommends joint custody, but only if she thinks the animal can handle it.
"Some animals think it's terrific to go live in two homes," she says. "Others have separation anxiety and splitting time would only make it worse."
I don't even agree with those idiotic custody evaluations when they are applied to (human) children. I just heard from a woman who lost a custody evaluation because of her appearance. Or maybe it was some other prejudice, as you can never be sure. All she knows is that the report cited her clothing and other trivial factors negatively.