When I was 19, my mother continuously fed my brother’s dog Una very unhealthy table scraps despite his asking her not to. Una would sometimes throw up afterwards, but she wouldn’t really apologize, just be sorry that she was caught doing it. I can see that my mother didn’t respect the boundaries of children or of animals. She saw them as “playthings” that she could do whatever she wanted to, and didn’t care about what they, or the parents/guardians felt. It reminds me of how my grandmother would try to feed us frozen bean burritos that contained lard, despite the fact that our parents decided to raise us vegetarian and we wanted to stay that way. A total sign of disrespect, and she knew it was wrong because she attempted to hide it and would yell at us if we tried to read the ingredients. My mother later complained about how much it hurt her feelings when my brother refused to let Una stay with her because he knew she would misfeed. She cried about having this dog taken away from her, despite the fact that she had given away or otherwise gotten rid of every dog I had as a child regardless of my feelings.
To my mother, only her feelings mattered, not my brother’s at having his boundaries crossed, or those of the poor dog who had very sensitive weight problems and would suffer from being treated as a trash can to inhale whatever excess food was in the house. Ironically, when I was seven years old I was eating an afternoon snack and innocently offered our dog at the time a pickle. But when my mother walked through the door with her work-rage in tow, she screamed “what is this pickle doing on the floor,” and then “DOGS DON’T EAT PICKLES!” How was I supposed to know that, especially when my mother did give the dog all sorts of table scraps? But it is really sad that in my childhood I often learned things for the first time by being screamed at and treated like I was “so stupid” for not already knowing them. But over a decade later this same person who screamed at me about dogs “not eating pickles” was feeding stale breakfast cereal and canned peas to a dog who she begged to foster while my brother was away but refused to actually buy dog food for.
When my brother did let his dog stay alone with my parents for a month, I recall one night I heard them repeating stock phrases they yelled at all of our dogs, like “you go lay down!” and groaning that “she’s been distracting me from the TV all night long…” Soon una relieved herself in the house, and my father rubbed her nose in it, hit her, and locked her in the basement as a result. That is abusive, traumatic, and very counterproductive for house-training. My parents had no interest in what might be wrong with the dog, and therefore they were shocked when the next morning, she had swelling all over her body, apparently caused by multiple bee or wasp stings the previous day. She had been trying to get their attention and help because of her medical needs, but all she received in response was abuse, a scenario familiar to many abused children.
The next day, my mother meekly said “I don’t think that was really her last night,” as if the dog was the one who behaved badly and not herself. Of the five dogs we had at various times while I was growing up, none of them lasted very long. Inevitably my brother and I were blamed for things not working out, with my mother claiming that we didn’t take care of the dogs or look after them. And she would say derisively that “we never had any good dogs.” But they were not “bad dogs” anymore then I was a “bad, irresponsible stupid kid.” The starting point of everything was her abusive, negligent behavior which defined the environment we lived in and what we had to respond to. She even said once, “I guess you need to adopt a dog who has been beaten a lot by the previous owner to get anything good.” A truly disgusting and ignorant sentiment, since the dogs we had were just responding to her violence and cruelty.
When my last dog ran away at 14, I was really sad and worried. But my mother wasn’t, she was glad it was gone and made loud threats on the phone to other people about how she would kill us if we tried to look for her (though of course I did.) Months later while my sister was visiting I became upset when I saw a dog who looked exactly like her. In response my sister exploded at me with my mother’s second-hand complaints, saying “You never brought her into your room or played with her at all!” and then “How long do you think they keep dogs at an animal shelter? Like a week, so if you really wanted her back, you would have called.” I did not deserve this shaming, condescending attack, I did take the dog into my room often and sincerely wanted her around. But the dog insisted on sleeping in the living room, and I couldn’t change that, nor was I a fully responsible and empowered adult capable of fully taking care of a dog when my parents were against it.
The real truth is my mother just didn’t like the dog, the same as she disliked most people in general, including her own kids. But my mother felt a strong need to blame all of her feelings on other people, she could never just own them and be honest, there was always a fake story attached to try and “explain” all of her extreme responses when it was really just her own psychosis. When I took a shower at 4am once it woke her up, and she continuously insisted it was because “you knocked every shampoo bottle off the shelves while you were in there!” My mother had to make me into a caricature; a comical, stupid person instead of admitting that the sound of my taking a normal shower without knocking anything over was enough to wake her up because she was an extremely light sleeper. I had to tiptoe through the house for my entire childhood on account of her condition, but it was always framed as my fault when she woke up, and she never tried ear plugs or therapy. Years later she claimed this nice gold/black dog was “ugly” and thus worthy of her dislike.
My current dog, a very happy smart and beautiful creature showed up on our doorstep one night, and we adopted him. I admit that despite his sweet and charming personality, I was at first very hesitant with him. All of those shaming accusations from my mother that I was too incompetent and indifferent to ever care for a dog, that I was responsible for their departure came back to haunt me. But I soon fell in love and found that none of that was true. It’s a part of my nature to be caring to others, a trait that my mother exploited even though she frequently complained I didn’t do enough for her. And without the drama and confinement of my abusive family, I’ve taken excellent care of him even when he’s had very complex medical issues. I never yell at or hit him, I understand his needs, and use his loving attachment to me to coax him out of anything I don’t want him to do. And I feed him very healthy and biologically appropriate food that isn’t full of chemicals and by-products. He looks to me for safe, gentle guidance and love, and that is what I give him.
My parents were the ones who couldn’t take care of children or animals, and they shouldn’t have had custody of either. I am very sorry that animals were mistreated in our house, but I was a powerless child and could do little to change that. It is my parents who treated the dogs badly, it was my mother who neglected her pet birds causing their death, and who severely abused her own children, creating a horrible atmosphere for anyone to live in. It was not me, and not my fault; I did my best as a child in that house. Today I have full control of the situation, and I choose to be very receptive and kind to my dog even though we never sought him out. He came into our lives and enriched it, and I’m very grateful for that. I would never leave him or any potential children I may once have with any of my relatives. There are covert, overt, subtle and obvious risks for abuse, and I will never abandon myself or someone I love to their un-care again.