By Robin Mullins Senger
Animal abuse is a dangerous character flaw that must not be ignored.
One of the red flags I failed to recognize early on in my relationship with Brian was his admitted cruelty to animals as a child and adolescent. He didn’t see it as cruelty though. If someone wanted to get rid of an animal for some reason, Brian was the one to get it done. Animal abuse and neglect had been a normal part of his life growing up.
I remember one day on the farm he came to me with a puzzled expression on his face. "Do you think an animal can feel anything?" he asked me. After I picked my jaw up off the ground I said, "You mean to tell me you don't think animals have feelings?"
He replied, "No. I've never considered that. But I can't help but wonder if Ellie (our pet Holstein calf) has feelings. It's just not something I've ever thought of before. I don't think they are capable of it."
He said this as Ellie playfully bumped into him, enticing him back into playing their spontaneous game. She clearly was having great fun with Brian on that beautiful sunny winter day, and she was endearing in her playful game of chase. Brian would chase her, and then she would turn and chase him. The goats and the dogs got involved in the game which in time turned into something like hide and seek. This went on for some time before all the animals eagerly gathered for dinner. Brian was in his 40's and this was the first time he considered an animal having feelings?
Within a month of that incident, Brian impulsively and without telling me sold our sweet little Ellie for a few dollars to a slaughter house known for its cruelty to the thousands of cows on its property. The thought of it still makes me sick and angry. Perhaps the concept of others having feelings was foreign to Brian because he wasn't capable of them himself.
I prefer killing my pets by slicing their throats. Which way do you prefer?
As he relayed it to me after we were married, his preferred method for killing pets was slicing the throat or caving in the scull and dumping the body somewhere out of sight. He also saw no problem with abandoning them. It puzzled and amused him that the idea of it bothered me so much.
I hoped that animal abuse was all in his past when he was a “non-Christian” and that it would not be part of his “Christian” future with me. Boy was I wrong! Seriously ladies, I was really duped by his fake "conversion” and his ability at religious pretension, which he pulled off for about three years.
Eventually, if it’s not a genuine heart change, the real man is going to emerge. If you are in a committed relationship when it does, you are really going to be in a world of trouble.
No matter how convinced you are that he has changed (if there is that claim), knowing what he has been like in the past is important to gauge what you might be dealing with should the “change” disappear. And if he commits animal abuse now, you had better run. Animal abuse is a HUGE predictor of violence toward you and your children, not to mention all your pets.
"One of the four most significant indicators of who is at greatest risk of becoming a domestic batterer is pet abuse." (Walton-Moss et al.,2005)
During the first three years of our marriage, before he regressed back to his real self, he seemed okay with our pets. He didn’t attach to them, but he wasn’t mean, and sometimes had fun with them. It puzzled me though that he didn’t actually bond with them. He could sweetly cuddle with a kitten one minute, and the next talk about dumping it off in a bar pit somewhere as a solution for the fleas.
He started joking about animal abuse, and then it turned into much more...
After he reverted to his true self after three years of the facade, he started joking about slicing the animal’s throats. Jokes eventually turned into angry threats if an animal didn’t respond immediately. He started kicking them and acting powerful and controlling toward our pets and farm animals, even in front of our children without concern for their feelings.
One morning while it was still dark he came back home with a deer after he had just left for work. He had hit it with the pickup. I assumed it had jumped out in front of him, but he proudly said no, he had driven onto the shoulder to hit it just right so it didn't damage his truck or the meat.
He proceeded to instruct me on the fine and noble art of successfully hitting deer to avoid damaging my car so I could also contribute to feeding our family (not that we were hungry at all). He stared at me, wanting me to share his enthusiasm. I didn't say anything, and he finally shrugged and said, "I can tell from the look on your face that you're not going to do it are you." He hit that one right on!
Our daughters were wide-eyed over this concept as they quietly watched Brian hang it from a tree in our backyard in the light of his headlights and proceed to cut it up and throw it in the freezer before rushing back off to work. It was just another red-flag that he was losing the ability to act appropriately and consider the effect of his actions and words on others.
Hmmmm... Which poison will hurt the most?
Everyone's pets were at risk, not just ours. One day, the neighbor’s dog across the street killed our much loved rooster Frankie for Sunday dinner. Brian was furious. Not wanting it to be obvious he had retaliated, he waited several days before striking back. In the meantime, he pondered which poison would cause the dog the most pain.
It was at this time I learned something new and very alarming about Brian. He talked about the best way to kill someone. He had learned it in prison. There were certain natural poisons that wouldn't show up in a biopsy, and he graphically described other methods that would not make murder an obvious reason for death.
Brian’s final decision was to mix rat poison in some hamburger meat and throw it out the window into the neighbor’s yard on his way to work. It was all about calculated revenge for him. He didn’t want to talk to the neighbor about it and give her a chance to rectify the situation. He hoped it tortured the dog as pay back for killing Frankie.
It wasn’t until the end of that day that the thought occurred to him that some other innocent animal, including one of our own, might get to the poisoned meat before the intended victim - not that he particularly cared. As it turned out, some other animal did eat it first, although it wasn’t one of ours.
This situation was extremely disturbing to me, more evidence that the “real” Brian emerging was a dangerous man. I wondered what might happen to me if he ever imagined I was crossing him.
I knew time was running out for me and the children.
Within weeks he started verbally threatening me over imagined wrongs. I knew the clock was ticking until he would act on his verbal threats against me physically – following the same pattern he had followed with the animals.
The last few months of our relationship, as I searched for answers to why he was turning into the person he was, I became aware of things he had hidden from me before I married him - things like two past violent murders he bragged to friends he had committed and gotten away with. The victim of one of them had his throat sliced so brutally he was nearly decapitated.
I don’t know if Brian really did commit the murders or not, and I didn’t dare ever confront him on it. But it shook me that I could SEE him capable of doing it, and it seemed to go along with the man who was currently “talking” about doing similar things to our animals.
Animal abuse – even if it is only verbal “joking” or threats – will materialize at some point. Take it seriously now.
I still struggle with guilt and sorrow for the mistreatment and loss of pets during our marriage.
One of the hardest things for me to do was to make choices that revolved around our animals. While I have had the privilege of watching my children survive, heal, and thrive since leaving Brian, I still struggle with guilt and sorrow for the mistreatment and loss of animals during our marriage.
Pets are so vulnerable, dependent and innocent, and truly love and trust us. Right or wrong, I normally made the choice to advocate having our pets humanely euthanized rather than Brian dumping them off somewhere or having their throats slit, etc. Sometimes I was able to find a home I felt good about by advertising.
When you are under duress and pressure, it can be hard to think straight and feel like you are making the best decisions all the time. All in all, it was very sad and hard on me and the children. But ultimately for me, when it came down to having to choose between either the children or the animals, I chose to protect the children first.
I did what I could for the animals, but at the very end, I just had to get us out.
Finding homes for the animals would have alerted him to what I was planning. I managed to make it out with the children's cats and a chicken. It was a miracle from God that I was able to do that – but He surprised me with the opportunity and I grabbed it. Unfortunately the other animals did not fare so well after we left, but I have to continually let it go and tell myself that I did what I could and leave it in God’s hands. Otherwise the sorrow and guilt would eat me up.
Remember that God cares about your animals too. He talks throughout His Word about the importance of our animals welfare and treating them kindly. It grieves Him deeply to watch any innocent child or animal suffer. He cares about the things that are close to our hearts. Pray for Him to show you how to protect your animals. He cares about every detail in your life, and your animals are not an exception!