The faces and injuries change, but the scenarios are always similar. The pet, a frightened or aggressive nightmare. The owner, a timid woman, enveloping the pet in a protective and comforting embrace. The tale of the injury always told to the floor,to the pet, to the wall, but never to my face. The man in the picture is almost always absent from my exam room, but will receive a tearful phone call to beg permission to spend their money for the animal's care.
I once watched the tormented change of countenance as a woman made a decision to cast a leg....knowing that she would take a beating. She was not allowed to spend money. She begged me for alternatives that would allow her beloved pet to heal properly but wouldn't be visible to her husband. Casts are very visible. He would see six weeks worth of dollar signs. Surgery was out of the question. She needed to choose between doing nothing, casting the leg, or surrendering the pet to receive proper care.
An abused woman seldom chooses to surrender her closest friend. One of the few friends who knows the truth. The one who comforts her when she cries. The one who licks her wounds. The only one in the household who offers to protect her.
She endured a beating for her dog.
You may consider it a poor choice. One of many. She loved this dog. Perhaps this pet is the only unconditional love that she will experience until there is change.
There is no denying the connection. People who abuse animals abuse people. Children growing up in households of domestic abuse will abuse animals. Domestic abusers will both threaten and cause harm to the children and animals to maintain control of their victims. Between eighteen to forty-eight percent of abused women will delay leaving an abusive situation out of fear for the pets.
If you are living in this situation, please hear me.
Your abuser WILL NOT change.
He may pay for what he breaks, but it is not out of love.
He may say he is sorry, but he will not remember it come the next round.
Someday you or your pet may lose your life to this man. Sadly, I have seen it. I have been chased out of exam rooms by protective growling guardians. I have attended secret confessions behind these doors. "This dog is the only thing that saved me from him."
As a veterinarian, I can help your pets bones, bruises, and burns to heal. But I can not help you unless you speak up. I can suspect a problem, but the legal and social work system can not come to your aid unless you are willing to admit the problem and take action. When I ask you for a third time how the accident happened.....say the words. My colleagues and I know how to get you the help you seek. We can direct you to well-trained counsellors who can give you and your pet a safe exit strategy. You must speak up! There is nothing we want more than to get you and this pet out of an unsafe environment.
Sadly, I have known of only one woman in my eight years of practice who chose to both speak up and accept help. I hope there were more who took action after we talked. What has happened to the rest of them? Did their pets become causalities of the abusive relationship? Have the women become the casualties?
It is important to me to remind these women what my parents taught me about love. My perspective comes from a christian upbringing. I have read it from Corinthians many times. I hang it on my wall to remind myself how to love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Ask yourself, women, does he love you? Do you love yourself?
For me, love is an action. What are his actions? Was it love that brought you into my exam room?
Get out of this relationship.
The little blond never spoke up. She had no money to repair the leg. The staff and I, all heartbroken by this situation, splinted this leg for her and advised her in how to care for it. She had to have known that we percieved her circumstance. She was grateful for our help.
I carried the little frightened dog back to the exam room. As I walked, I said a little prayer for this little dog and this young woman. God, give her wisdom. Give them protection. Heal them both. And before I handed him back to her, I whispered in little dog's ear, "You take care of her....and bite the hell out of him."
I never saw them again.
Please visit the following links to learn more about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence:
The University of Tennessee's Veterinary Social Work program
The Humane Society
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and ready to seek help:
In Tennessee: http://tcadsv.org/#/find-help/domestic-violence-programs.html
Want to know if you are in an abusive relationship? http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm