Yesterday,  The Good Men Project  published a piece called “Thank You For Crying” about how my husband supported me by showing his true feelings when we lost our dog, Moo. I wrote it a while ago, but it got caught up in my stack of articles called, “Do I really want to say this?”

One of the reasons that I hesitated so much to share it is because I allude to the fact that Moo was really the first animal that I loved with all of my heart. People think of me as a great animal lover, but they don’t know how many years it took for me to be able to really give my heart to a pet.

Don’t get me wrong; I have diligently and lovingly cared for pets in our family before. I have even raised orphaned kittens, feeding them with a bottle around the clock. But the fostering was part of my moral code of doing good where I could, and our pets were always Pete’s pets. I remember one very close friend who lost all respect for me when he discovered that yes, I cared about our pets, but no, I was not besotted with them.

In the months since Moo has died, I have tried to figure out why I was able to give her my heart, often in the context of worrying that Yoda might never experience the same devotion.

Then I read an article that filled in the missing pieces for me. It was in the New York Times and it discussed the very strong link between abuse of animals and domestic violence. The article talked about how often abusers use the family’s pets as a tool to control their victims. It also talked about the fact that animals come and go through abusive homes so quickly that victims rarely have time to bond with them or do so at the peril of a broken heart. In other words, for many reasons, it is not safe for victims of domestic or child abuse to love animals.

We had pets when I was younger. But suffice it to say that my mother and later my step-father could have been jailed for their care of those animals.  It was so bad that a few years ago I took pity on one of their dogs and had her euthanized because she was suffering so badly from neglect and maltreatment.

Thanks to the NY Times article, I understood why it has taken so long. Moo is the first loving animal that we adopted after I severed my ties with my mother. (We briefly gave hospice care to a sick and very unhappy cat, but no one – not even Pete- bonded with him.) I think that as long as my mother was a part of my daily life, I was still guarded in ways that I was not even aware of.  And I could not give my heart to a pet as long as she was even on the periphery of my life.

I feel more safe at this time in my life than I have ever felt before. One part of that feeling of safety comes from my relationship withPete, but the other part is the absence of my mother.

But there is one other thing that I had to find trust in: myself. I had to know that I would never, not even in a moment of unbridled anger treat an animal the way that others have treated me and other vulnerable creatures. Having raised two children to adulthood convinced me that even in my most triggered or enraged moments, I will not harm a vulnerable and innocent creature.

So I am thankful for more than just Pete’s comfort. I am also thankful for his support as I became and learned that I am a person that I can trust. 

And I want to encourage everyone to respect people who give animals the kind of care required but are clearly not besotted with them. They may have a history that you do not know about, one that makes it hard for them to open their hearts to a pet.

And, let us be mindful that an abused animal is usually a sign of an abusive family. For those active in animal rescue, please read the NY Times article and consider calling child services when you see an abused animal. You may be saving a child’s life.

To help those who have been abused and those who are dealing with animals that have been abused, tomorrow  I will be posting a guest-post by the wonderful dog-whisperer Shawna Clausen.  She has been enormously helpful with our late dog, Moo, and with our new little bundle of fur, teeth and joy, Yoda.

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