Claire's dog sleeps at her feet while she writes letters to family and friends who live a distance away from her, when she knits and when she reads. Sometimes he sits with her on the porch swing.
He barks at her, his ears perked up, to talk her into playing. He gets excited when she reaches for his leash.
She and Coco bonded when he was a small ball of brown and white fur. In truth, Coco chose her at a time when she didn't want to be close to anything living and breathing, a pet that she would have to leave behind when she left this house for good. She didn't want emotional strings that tied her down when she decided she couldn't stay here any longer.
But Coco seemed to sense in her some need and attached himself to her. Anyone who watched the two of them together saw the love light in Coco's eyes and knew the dog belonged to Claire.
Coco is loyal. He loves Claire unconditionally. She knows this. He snuggles close to her at every opportunity, comforting her, giving her a reason to put one foot in front of the other. He is a legitimate reason for her to put behind her, for a few minutes at a time, the isolation under which she lives.
Claire doesn't want to make her husband look bad publicly, but he isdifficult to live with. The emotional abuse has become intolerable. She wears no bruises or lacerations. He has never broken any of her bones or caused her to visit the ER for treatment.
There is no substance abuse. But there is isolation, loneliness and cutting remarks intended to hurt her, undermine her sense of self-worth. Cold, heartless eyes follow her through the house. Silent feet creep up behind her sometimes, startling her, as if he were trying to catch her doing something she shouldn't. There is the passive-aggression because he doesn't know how to handle issues in any other way and doesn't understand that the behavior actually causes problems.
But, how can she abandon Coco? Landlords are unlikely to accept renters with pets. To leave Coco behind would be irresponsible, abandonment, neglect. She couldn't do that to her Coco. When she accepted responsibility for that little ball of fur, it was a lifetime commitment.
In a survey of shelters for victims of domestic violence, 91 percent of the victims reported animal abuse. It occurs because the batterer can control his spouse when he hurts a beloved family pet. If she threatens to leave he may threaten to harm a pet to get her to stay.
If she actually does leave, the abuser may hurt or kill the pet to punish her or to convince her that he will do the same to her if she doesn't return. She can't imagine her husband doing such a thing.
But, she never dreamed he would ever emotionally batter her. A batterer will use anything, anyone, as a tool to control her. She will sacrifice anything to protect those she loves.
Some victims of domestic violence, especially women who are isolated by their batterers, become especially attached to their pets. When they begin to plan their escape-or if they decide they will stay because they have no alternative-the planning should include the pet.
Claire and Coco walk around the neighborhood. She studies possible escape routes in case it should come to that. Where will she and Coco go? How will they get to a place of safety? Walking Coco also is a cooling off time, a means of getting away from a tense situation in the house that could break out into a major domestic violence event.
There is a bag packed with the things Coco would need if they had to leave suddenlyfood, ownership documents, a leash, toys. She knows a safe place where she can take Coco until she can have him back with her. But she doesn't want to spend a day without her Coco sleeping at her feet while she writes letters to family and friends at a distance.
Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and other mental health issues.
For more information, contact FRC at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.