How do you tell your pet that you’ve broken up with your partner and they’ll never get to snuggle them again?
When Abby Govindan, 22, from Houston, Texas, got dumped by her boyfriend, one of her biggest concerns was how to tell her cat that the guy they had both adored had left for good.
The US-based comedian and writer lamented to Twitter: “How do I explain to my cat, who loved my boyfriend more than anything in the world, that he is never coming over again ever”?
And with 250,000 likes and nearly 13,000 retweets, her plea clearly resonated.
She told the BBC she was shocked by how many people got in touch – with many more sending her private messages of support.
“I got broken up with and so a few minutes later I tweeted the first thoughts in my head. People were really nice but I just didn’t expect the response.”
Abby added: “I’m actually a dog person but I’d had my cat Anjali for just over a year. She was a rescue and provides me with emotional support.
“But it was my ex-partner – whom I had been with for seven months – who taught me how to ‘speak cat’ – they understood each other on an intimate level and she adored him.”
Abby said that Anjali, 12, would perk her ears up and run to the door whenever she heard the sound of Abby’s former partner locking his car when he came over.
“I just wish I could explain to her what’s going on. I think she knows something is different as when I came home after the break up she was far more affectionate with me than she usually is.
Abby said when she first got Anjali, the feline would suffer from separation anxiety and would wake her up in the middle of the night to check she was still there, so she was concerned about how the relationship break up would affect the pair of them.
“I can see her trying to figure out what’s going on. She’s coming over to check on me when I cry. She’s normally a bit of a diva but she’s being really nice.”
Amy Loyd from Tennessee, US, was among those who responded on Twitter. She told Abby: “When my ex husband left me, my dog went into a serious depression. I got another doggie to keep her company. Not totally convinced that it helped but I think it did change her mental focus. Now they’re besties.”
Dogs get lovesick too
She told the BBC that Abby’s request made her think carefully about what had happened to her Boston Terrier Lily when their family dynamics changed.
“Lily is a rescue and has been with us for 12 years. I got her when my son was three and I was a single mum.
“When I first met my ex-husband in 2010, she fell in love with him too. He knew how to pet her in just the right way.”
However when her former partner left after two years of marriage, Lily was also left heartbroken.
“I don’t think she realised quite what was happening at first. She wouldn’t eat; she wasn’t excited to see people – she was lovesick.
Amy said she sat down with Lily and would tell her ‘it’s not your fault’ but of course had no idea how much of this her dog could actually understand.
She later went and got another rescue – London – and while the two initially took a while to trust each other, now they spend all their time together.
Amy says she is convinced that her dogs helped her move on from the relationship too.
“I needed loyalty after my husband left me for somebody else. These two give me and my son the love and loyalty we deserve.”
But what should you do when it comes to breaking up when pets are involved?
Elaine Henley is from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) and is a clinical animal behaviourist in Glasgow in the UK.
She says it’s important to recognise that pets will be able to pick up on behaviours and emotional clues being emitted by the couples involved.
“If there is a lot of acrimony in the home – perhaps people arguing, or a lot of upset, then the creatures will pick up the emotions but just not be able to fully understand the reasons why,” she said. “It’ll be like small children wondering what’s happening when their caregivers break up. They want to know what is making mum and dad so unhappy?”
She said this could lead to them reacting and playing out – there might be unexpected aggression, over eating, pacing around and anxiety.
She suggested to consider gradually introducing the fact that one caregiver will no longer be in the animal’s life but admitted that’s not always easy.
Henley said she was unsurprised that Abby’s cat was paying her more attention and said: “Pets see the subtleties in your body language and pick up on the pheromones you are giving out.”
She added: “We may no longer like the ex but to that animal, that person seemed nice and safe and loving – so they will feel that loss. They will need reassurance that you aren’t planning to go anywhere and if they are being spoken to in a calm manner, that would help.”
But what happens now?
Well back in the US, Abby says she will allow her and Anjali time and space to grieve. Her favourite response to her question about how to let Anjali know what’s going on?
“My friend messaged me, saying I should tell her: ‘Very, very gently’.”