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One quick interaction changed my whole world. I was in my bedroom getting ready to go out and suddenly I heard a scream. I bolted into to the hallway and saw my abuser standing over Bruce with his clenched fist raised. He had pinned the Pug to the floor with his other hand and was preparing to deliver another blow when he saw me there.
I felt so many things in that moment — heartbreak, terror, repulsion, fury, shame. I was raised to believe that a person’s true character is revealed in the way he treats a helpless animal. In my mind, anyone who mistreats or hurts an animal is evil. In that moment, I confronted the truth that I was in a relationship with someone who was dangerous in ways I could not even understand. I could no longer make excuses for him, give him the benefit of the doubt or even hope that he would somehow change. I knew in that instant that I was finally seeing him for who he was.
I swept Bruce into my arms and, for the first time, I stood up to my abuser: I told him that if he ever threatened or touched either dog again in a harmful way I would call the police and leave for good.
In hindsight, I know that I should have left him right then, but I didn’t. His tearful, pleading remorse made me feel responsible, like it was my job to stay and help him change. But more than that I feared that if I did take action, he would retaliate by taking the dogs — or worse.
While I didn’t leave him immediately, I did reach out to family and friends after that incident. I had cut myself off from the people who loved me, largely out of shame, but when I told them what had happened — and what had been happening — they urged me to leave him and get to a safe place. Eventually, I found the strength to do what they asked, even though I was terrified for myself and for my dogs.
Unfortunately, my worst fear came true: My abuser chose to keep Bruce with him, sending Willy with me. Driving away from our home and my beloved dog, I was hysterical. My tears were partially from relief, but mostly they were shed in grief of the loss of one of my dogs and the danger he faced as a result.
My constant prayer during those days of separation and the resulting legal battle was that I would be able to keep both of my dogs. And that’s exactly what happened: My prayers were answered and the Pugs and I were able to move forward together to heal from our years of abuse and sadness.
My story has a happy ending, but there are thousands of other pet owners just like me. I stand as one among many, many victims who have remained imprisoned in an abusive relationship because they fear leaving their beloved pet behind. Unfortunately, pets, who are often the victims’ greatest source of support, are frequently used as leverage by the abuser to intimidate and threaten the victim and prevent her from leaving. This may include everything from neglect or physical injury to the pet’s death.
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