Author’s note : This is a short story written as an allegory to domestic abuse, in which the pet’s life mimics that of a human companion/partner in an abusive relationship. Please note that all characters and elements of the story are purely fictional and not based on any specific circumstance, but rather, are a fictional combination of personal experiences and reports I have read. Quite often I notice the compassion, the understanding, that people exhibit when seeing animals treated with cruelty, yet many often fail to understand the same patterns in people. “Why doesn’t she leave? Why doesn’t she fight back? Why would she keep trying to make it work?” I wanted to address some of these misunderstandings, and demonstrate how routine abuse can turn the victim into an empty shell; a shadow of their former self. People loathe animal cruelty, as they should, but perhaps we should try to extend some of the same understanding to victims of abuse. Someone doesn’t have to be physically shackled to feel trapped.
The next time someone asks you ”why didn’t she leave?” you can show them this.
I remember the first day I laid eyes on him. With bright eyes and a big grin, he picked me up and held me close, smoothing the fur on my neck and laughing at my furiously wagging tail. He showered me with praise, telling his mum that I was the one for him. I didn’t see him as a ‘master’…he was more like my human soul-mate.
The first time I saw our new home I felt a surge of love and excitement. I couldn’t wait to start our lives together! We went hiking, swimming, played fetch together by the beach, took long road trips… We were a team! Nothing made me happier than hearing his words, soft and gentle as he roughed the fur around my neck. “You’re my best mate. It’s you and me for life girl.” Life was new and shiny.
I also remember the moment that everything changed. Coming home from work one night, he seemed tired and grumpy. In my eagerness to cheer him up, I leapt to greet my soul-mate, accidentally leaving a muddy streak across his jeans. Recoiling from me he cursed angrily; striking an arm across my jaw.
That was the first time he hit me.
Devastation, humiliation and confusion clouded my thoughts as I was left stinging, wondering what I’d done. I’d never meant to hurt or upset my best friend. Trembling with shock, I crept forward, head down, longing to feel a reassuring hand on my fur; longing for forgiveness. Instead he growled angrily and stalked away.
Hiding away I waited anxiously, all the while hearing the angry footsteps stalking upstairs. I sensed him standing by the door watching me; felt myself cringe as he approached, arms outstretched in a peace-offering. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I was just having a bad day,” come the words. His face is relaxed and his hands calm as he soothes my anxieties, letting me close so I can apologise profusely for being so stupidly happy to see him earlier. I tell myself I will be better behaved and less excitable in the future.
A few days later I notice my soul-mate is not himself. Attempting to cheer him up I bound into the room wagging my tail and jumping from side to side, my tongue lolling as I flash my best grin. Snuffing my face against his leg I offer him comfort. “Not now,” he says, pushing me away. I feel my heart drop; I hate seeing my soul-mate this way. I lick his hand, looking up with adoration and concern. I’m here for you, I say, brushing my wet nose against his palm. Please don’t push me away. Before I even hear the words I feel the change in the air, his mood exploding.
“I said beat it bitch!” He draws his foot back, driving it hard into my rib cage and causing me to cry out with shock. Escape! Run! shouts my brain. Don’t move, says my body. Confused, I jump backwards, petrified to move. “Get out!” he screams; his eyes – clear only moments ago – are now dark and full of hatred.
I run, run as fast as I can. Curling into a ball I try to make myself small, hoping to escape the firing line. I tremble as I feel his presence nearing me. “I told you to get out! Why can’t you just do as you’re told!” he snarls. “If you don’t learn to behave yourself I’ll have to teach you a lesson…”
His stare is terrifying. Where has my soul-mate gone?
I don’t know what to do…I don’t want to upset my friend but I also want to support him, cheer him up. I want things to be like they were, when we would adventure and spend our days together. Maybe I just need to learn to be quieter, more submissive I reason. Yes. That must be it. Licking the tender bruising along my rib cage I release the hateful words from my mind. I just need to follow his lead from now on. I’ll be the best companion ever; everything he wants.
I feel my mood begin to lift in the following days as things gradually go back to normal. My soul-mate showers me with praise, taking us on fun little getaways and even bringing me treats. He must be feeling much better, I think to myself. Things are going to be okay! I remain quiet and dull, being extra careful not to be too exuberant or do anything which might upset him. I mentally go through the list in my mind; all of the things I must not do.
“No running in the yard – I’m trying to grow the grass!”
“Don’t ask me to play with you! I’m busy!”
“Stop annoying me – I’ll get your food when I’m ready.”
“Stop barking! I don’t have time to walk you.”
“Don’t touch me with your nose!”
“Stop being such a sook!”
Soon however, it becomes clear to me that nothing I can do, or avoid doing, will make the abuse any easier to avoid. Some days he pushes his boot into my hide, laughing as I yelp. He does it in anger, he does it for fun. Whether silent or loud, appeasing or obedient, I am punished all the same.
What did I do to deserve this?
How can I fix him?
What am I doing wrong?
I bring him his paper, nuzzle his hand affectionately, sit quietly when he is busy…but nothing works. Eventually I give up, becoming an empty shell of the puppy I once was. I lay silently in the corner of the room, shaking and anxious when hearing his car arrive. My stomach knots and I have trouble keeping my food down – which only makes him angrier.
“Look at this fucking mess! What good are you!?”
Soon he is beating me daily – no longer my soul-mate but a master. There was a time where I would have tried to fight back, but I now know that is pointless. His sheer size, his strength, his fury…it’s no use. I tried that once and couldn’t walk for days afterward. Now I only cower and whimper, trying not to howl for fear that he will hurt me more. Tiring of using his fists, the man who once loved and comforted me begins to use objects in his quest to break my spirit; eyes always flaming as he beats down on me. The hateful words that fill the air form a blanket, trapping me in a cycle of fear and self-loating. I hear these words every day, and slowly I begin to believe them as a truth.
Good for nothing bitch.
Day in and day out it continues. I begin to despair, unable to understand his moods or how to be a better friend to him. Although weak and weary, my bones aching and bruised, something inside tells me that things will never change if I do not fight back. Envisioning myself in a different home, where music and sunshine fill the air, I instantly feel guilty. How can I even picture myself anywhere else? This is all I’ve ever known – and why would it be better elsewhere?
Sometimes I catch a glance from a concerned neighbour but they always look away, not wanting to get involved. “It’s horrible the way he treats her. I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor thing left one day and didn’t come back,” said one lady pitifully. It was true that I could walk away at any moment – there were no chains on my legs…
Only my mind.
Some days he is softer, but it never lasts; the promises are always broken. When the man who once loved me appears in the room, I keep my eyes downcast, remembering the training that has been literally beaten into me. I pray that today is the day he walks past and looks at me with kindness. Pausing in the doorway, looking at me with a mixture of disgust and pity, his voice is cold. “You look pathetic. Get out of my sight.” The words are warning enough – I know not to dawdle.
Despair consumes me. What good would it be to run away? Where would I go? I didn’t know anyone or anything else in this world. Trying to escape was pointless.
One autumn day as I lay under the dark house, I noticed something different in the air…a new scent. Someone was coming through the side gate! Feeling my stomach knot with anxiety I suppress my urge to bark, too afraid to make a sound. Keeping low to the ground, I do not look up at the family standing above me; keeping my eyes downcast in fear of the next beating.
A low keening fills the air, almost tearful, and a soft hand strokes the raw patch on my hide. I whimper and pull away. Please, please don’t hurt me.
“Shhh, it’s okay,” says the strange woman, kneeling down with an unfamiliar man.
“It’s going to be alright girl.”
I’m scared. Terrified. What if these people are going to hurt me too? I look into their eyes, feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth as they try to coax me out. No, no! I can’t leave here, I scream. He’ll hurt me worse – it’s better to stay. The words swarm around my head like a group of bees, words and promises about helping, giving me a new start, never hurting me ever again… I can’t take it all in.
Relenting, I allow myself to be tenderly picked up and carried to their car. I spend the whole trip anxiously wondering if I’ve made the right choice. Is life worth fighting for?
Arriving at the shelter I’m greeted by friendly faces and more promises of safety. I’m wary and shy, but my helpers remain patient, teaching me to trust and show my personality. I can’t imagine ever having another soul-mate – the thought is too painful – but they tell me that one day I’ll love again. I look to the faces around me – comforting, calm, safe.
Taking a step backward I feel my legs go weak, shaking with the unknown. The faces coax me to stay, telling me I can have a new beginning – if I just make the choice to trust. It is the hardest but most important of my life.
I put one paw in front of the other, walking toward my new friends.
I’ll never forget that day. It was the day I came back to life.
Author’s note : If you are experiencing domestic violence of any kind, please contact a Domestic violence helpline immediately, and tell a trusted friend, family member or colleague. In Australia you can call DV Connect on 1800 811 811. If you are a man or woman who is abusing your partner, please also contact DV Connect for help with addressing your mental health and behaviour. They also have a ”Pets in Crisis” foster program that can ‘help facilitate safe refuge for animals at risk until they can be reunited with their families.’
“Women and sometimes men whose pets are in immediate threat or danger or whose pets have become victims of cruelty associated with domestic or family violence can speak with a counsellor at DVConnect Womensline 1800 811 811 about their concerns for their pets and we can assess and advise whether the pets can be offered a place with Pets in Crisis.
“For women who need to stay in a refuge but are unable to find alternative care for their pets we can support them with a referral.”