In the 21st century US pet owning household, 48.2 percent recognize their pets as companions and 49.7 % as family members. (Phil Arkow & Anna Melbin, Practical Strategies for Serving with pets NCADV Conference July 24, 2012 - http://www.ncadv.org/files/2012%20Tuesday,%20July%2024th%201015am%20to%20Noon.pdf) As pets become more deeply valued members of our human family dynamic, conflicts involving their place, care and conduct will become a more frequent reality as well. What happens if your dog is a nuisance barker? What happens if the neighbor’s dog bites you? What if you need your dog for everyday survival and you live in a pet free building? How do you cope in divorce with the thought you may never see your pet again? How does one cope with these issues and many more conflicts that arise involving pets, while remaining friends with a neighbors, ex-spouse, non-dog owning friends, building residents and management?
Well, you can always sue, be sued or suffer in silence. None of which provide a very satisfactory outcome for the continued relationship of the people or pets involved. However, there is an old, now new again, approach to addressing conflict which has successfully been applied in the most difficult of pet disputes and helped the parties find a workable solution. It is called Mediation. A process documented in the bible yet applied now with 21st Century twist. Instead of both sides telling a 3rd party the problem and having that person decide the outcome, 21st Century mediation relies on the parties working together to resolve the disagreement. Mediation addresses the conflict it doesn’t avoiding it. It is not the ‘lets have someone else decide for us’ process. That is left to arbitrators in arbitration and judges in litigation. In mediation it is all about the people, pets and emotion underpinning the conflict. Isn’t that in line with where you may want to be anyway?
There are other forms of what is commonly referred to as alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Besides mediation, there is collaborative process and negotiation. Mediation provides one neutral person helping the parties in conflict have that ‘oh so difficult’ conversation fully, safely and confidentially. You can bring an attorney along or go it alone. Collaborative process brings a collaborative attorney, who has agreed to help you resolve this conflict without going to litigation, on board a mediation type process. Negotiation has someone else, usually the attorneys, shuttling between the conflicting parties delivering bottom line offers until an agreement is reached. You can always litigate if these methods fail. Only in collaborative do you need to find new representation if resolution fails.
These process proceeds by agreement of the parties. They are voluntary, you can leave at anytime if the power balances in discussions seem off or, in the case of mediation the neutral seems bias. In good mediation and collaborative processes the mediator or collaborative attorney is able to guide the parties to engage, have a conversation and find the common ground from which to forge a resolution. In conflict we often look at only the things on which we disagree. In mediation and collaborative practice we examine where you agree and work back to the disagreement.
As a model for conflict resolution, mediation and collaborative practice meet the needs of pet owners who want to resolve conflicts in less time, for less cost, while retaining a relationship going forward. It is much better for all the parties involved if they are able to say good morning each day, share custody of your beloved pet, or continue your relationship in the dog park, vet office, groomer, kennel and the list goes on. Often disagreements begin with misunderstandings that escalate into feuds. Mediation and Collaborative process provide you with the opportunity to stop and listen in a supported way. You don’t go it alone. In the end you can recover the relationships you should and move on from the ones you may need to leave behind.