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Molly Priesmeyer

The perils and promise of joint custody ... of a dog

The first time I saw him I knew I loved him. He was bounding in the street, tongue out, giant smile across his giant face, as happy as I had ever seen any four-legged creature. "Stop the car! Stop the car!" I yelled to my then-boyfriend, who didn't see the dog doing freedom love leaps about five feet from the car's hood. I opened the car door, and a then-55-pound pit bull "puppy" leapt right in, licking our faces like he had been waiting for us on that street corner forever. 

Over the next few weeks, I'd see him chained up to a tree in the neighbor's yard. Someone had also put a thick, heavy chain around his neck and covered it in layers of duct tape, making him carry a bulky, grit-colored collar behind his already heavy head. I'd remark that "the nicest dog I had ever met" was lonely and sad, and I'd find excuses to walk over and soothe-talk him and wave my fingers through the chain-link fence in an imagined solidarity sign. 

When the owner told me he was taking him to the Humane Society because he couldn't handle him, I knew I had to get him. Five years ago, a dog like him wouldn't make it. The guy wanted money for him, too much money, and a bunch of nice souls on the internet donated to his rescue funds. 

Today, that giant dog is 85 pounds, and he is at my ex-boyfriend's house. But thanks to our arrangement, I will see Scoobi (his "given" name) this weekend, because for the past four years, we have shared joint custody of a dog. Scoobi gets constant devotion, and we each get to share the responsibilities that come with owning an 85-pound food-obsessed leash-staring walk-begging prone-to-sunburn dog who tries to sit in the lap of everyone he meets. 

Dog ownership has changed over the years, which highlights one of the many reasons it's so hard to totally give him up. Since the 1960s, dog and cat ownership has quadrupled, reaching 150 million total cats and dogs in homes. Thirty-six percent of households have a dog. This year, we're likely to spend $60 billion on them in the U.S. alone. Yet it wasn't till the last two decades or so that dogs have become a big part of the family, leaping from the back yard hay pile to their owner's comfy bed. 

David Grimm, author of Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs, attributes the change in pet-owner relationships to the shifting ways we live now. "Now you have a lot of people living just as couples without kids, you have empty nesters, you have huge divorce rates, people living by themselves. There's a real emptiness in our homes that cats and dogs have filled. This isn't fringe behavior to treat a pet like a member of the family. It's not the crazy cat lady or the crazy dog person. It's society."

Sharing a dog, "co-parenting," or having "joint custody," is increasingly common, though it's not recognized by law. Dogs, for the most part, are still considered "personal property," the sharing of which is considered by law like trading an old gym sock back and forth. But even the concept of dogs as purely property is slightly shifting.

Last year, in France, a new bill changed the definition of animals from "movable goods" to "living and feeling beings," ending what one lawyer described as a "legal gray area" for dogs and cats stuck in the middle of a custody battle. Of course, in the U.S., we're a little less open about legally categorizing pets as "feeling beings," yet there is a push to upgrade the legal status of dogs to "personhood," the same benefit corporations receive. 

In a New York Times opinion piece in 2013, Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroecomonics at Emory University, argued that dogs are people, too, a discovery based on training and studying dogs with an MRI scanner that revealed they experience deep emotions. We must "reconsider treating them as property," he wrote. 

So far, legal proceedings have been mixed. In some cases, judges have gone so far as to award visitation rights to owners for their dogs. But until laws about dogs change, it's up to the adult humans to determine what is in "the dog's best interest." Which, for Scoobi, means not one but two houses where food magically rains from above. 

How old do you look? It might be more important how old you feel

It's a question any polite person will tell you to never ask: "How old are you?"  For some people, posing such a question is akin to asking someone about their nightly bedtime habits while standing on their brand-new hardwood floors with dripping Minnesota snow boots and a dead rabbit. 

I apparently was a super rude kid, because I remember asking my grandmother repeatedly how old she was, even though her answer was always the same: I am as old as my skin and a little bit older than my teeth. 

Earlier this week people were obsessing over and sharing the demo app, which uses Microsoft's new face detection API to predict someone's age from a single image. I did it using the photo above and the kind robot with good manners said I was 26. 26! This thing might be the very definition of clickbait. You mean, there's a robot out there that says I look younger than I am? I can't stop singing the Replacements' "I Will Dare" ("How old are you? How young am I?"), which is a one little Wonder-breadcrumb clue that I'm not 26. (And there's another one.) But thanks for seeing deep into my soul, clickbait How Old Robot! 

There's a certain age where you hit that "Don't ask, don't tell mark," and it's usually right around the time you've been pushed out of that coveted marketing-monolith defined 18-34 demographic. Suddenly, a car commercial featuring an unknown-to-you everything, like Kaylee Batta's "Everybody Let's Step it Up and Dance To This Thing" (That's a real thing, right?), becomes a stark reminder that you're in some sort of adult purgatory. Because being relevant to terrible marketers is allegedly more important than being someone who has, say, lived through two unique careers or dealt with the death a parent or leapt through 14 or so different world views that come from decades of living. 

Despite the mass exodus of young people in Minnesota, Minneapolis is still a relatively young metro. The median age in the Twin Cities is about 33, compared with the rest of the country at 36.9.  Yet it doesn't mean we're any more happy. In fact, research suggests the opposite.  A recent poll of 100 centenarians found that, on average, they felt most attractive at age 31 and the most energetic at age 33. As far as true happiness goes, though, they didn't nail that until about age 44. And they didn't feel most content until another decade later, around age 56. 

Of course, there's a difference between how old you actually are and how old you "feel." Late last year a study was released that suggested it's more important to feel young than to actually be young. In fact, the researchers warn you might die early (die! actually die!) if you don't feel young. The mortality rate over 99 months among the study volunteers (who averaged 65 years of age) who felt older than their true age was 24.6 percent, compared with 14.3 percent for those who felt much younger.

By 2050, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older, the largest  "older" generation yet. And if feeling younger helps peple live longer, it's a good thing, then, that the older people become, the younger they feel. Maybe by 2050 we will be traveling on high-speed trains running on kale and 100 will be the new 65 and 65 will be the new 44, and the How Old Robot will have long taken credit for helping millions of Americans feel younger and live longer. Cue the robot music. 



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