By Glori Phillips
I grew up in a family where my sensitivity was seen as a weakness. I loved all animals and trusted all people to be kind. I was the baby of the family by five years, and the only girl. I had three brothers. My recollections are most vivid from around age seven, when we moved to a fifty acre mixed dairy farm in Ontario. Life became full of adventures and relationships with our cows, pigs, chickens, cats, dogs, and my very best friend my pony, King. I was like most little sisters, in that I wished to be with my next older big brother, David. I would follow him around any time I had the chance. I craved his attention. David took great advantage of my need for his approval and instead of loving me and wanting to share with me; he tormented and bullied me on a daily basis. He would punch, pinch, and choke me. He delighted in pinning me down, placing his knees on my arms and sitting on my belly, then dropping salvia onto my face. The “Indian arm burn” was another favorite where he would twist the skin on my forearm until it grew red and burning. My arm would show the effects for hours afterward. There was one incident of sexual abuse and many times of verbal and emotional abuse. I never knew when I was safe around him and always kept an eye peeled for him and tried to figure out what his mood was. If he grew tired of harassing me he would turn his attention to one of our many animals.
I can remember my brother twisting the cows’ tails until they bawled in pain. This happened if a cow wouldn’t step over quickly enough when he was trying to go between two of them with the milking machine. On the milking machine, there was a little window so you could see the milk flow, and if the cow wasn’t letting down her milk my brother would punch her like a punching bag, in the belly or kick her in the udder. I can still hear how they would exhale in pain. They would strain to look backwards, their ears in the distress posture. There were times when he would just decide to steer wrestle the cows and he would grab them around their neck and twist their head around. He was never strong enough to actually make them fall, but that never stopped him from trying. On the contrary, it seemed to spur his repeated attempts. He was a provincial wrestling champion and I guess he figured he should be able to wrestle cows too. All the cows were very scared of him and would scurry past him, as much as Holstein cows can scurry, when he opened the gate for them to go back out to the pasture.
David wanted some banty chickens, so he got a rooster and four hens. What I didn’t know then about banty roosters, is that they are quite aggressive and will fight valiantly to defend their territory despite their diminutive size. My brother would bat this little guy around and laugh at him as he flew back at him trying to peck or rake him with his inch and a half long spurs. The rooster got so that he would fly across the barn yard at David even at the mere sight of him. I knew how the rooster felt.
I never actually saw David do anything to my pony, King, but one day when I was learning to ride; my instructor needed a knot untied from my pony’s halter so I could ride alone. She couldn’t get the knot undone so David said he would try and walked toward King. King reared up and tried to get away from David but ended up falling over backward on top of me. My pelvis was broken .David never did own up to hurting King, however, King’s fear of David spoke for itself.
During our time on the farm we had dogs with “problems” and David always volunteered to shoot these problem dogs. One dog called Lucky, got distemper. We never vaccinated our dogs or cats. Spike, a dog, who hadn’t been neutered, kept wandering and the neighbors were annoyed with his visits. The last dog who was shot was Queenie, because she had become a chicken killer. No one ever tried to teach our dogs anything. They were just “bad” so they had to disappear. A strange thing that I learned only a few years ago was that you could actually touch a dog’s tail; they even let you brush their tail. I remember watching David make the dogs spin in circles by spinning them by their tail. The dog would be whining and trying to snap at David’s hand. They spun as fast as they could. David was always laughing. If I went to touch their tail they would growl at me, tuck their tail between their legs and sit on it. Then they would look at me and kiss me. Now I know they were frightened and at the same time knew I had never hurt them, they were confused.
Our numerous cats were never safe either. David’s favorite torment for them was to throw them at a dog’s face. The cat, of course, clawed the dog’s face, and would spit and hiss and then bolt for cover. The dog was always panic- stricken and would run away to hide. Our cats and dogs normally got along fine and even some times would sleep together but obviously this cruel trick created fear and tension. Sometimes there were injuries that I would attend to and infections happened on occasion. Luckily there were never any eye injuries and the dogs never actually attacked the cats in retaliation.
I tried to get my brother to stop tormenting and hurting the animals. Sometimes I would physically intervene but he would just throw me aside and laugh or turn his torturing on to me. I told my parents but that never got him to stop either. David was often the only one available to do chores so that meant the cows were at his mercy. The only thing I could do was to try and soothe the animal after the attack. I regularly would give whichever animal that had been picked on extra feed. I would clean their pen, give them fresh bedding, change their water or whatever I could think of to try and help them feel better. I would always sing to them. Sometimes the songs were from school, however most of them were songs I made up, telling them how much I loved them and how I knew they were hurt and frightened. I would stroke the animals that would allow it and if there were cuts or bruises I would clean them and ice them. This was always done in secrecy because I knew David would stop me from helping the animals.
My oldest brother, Barry, and his wife lived on the farm with us. Their relationship was very stormy and often physically violent. After one argument Barry left the house with an axe in his hand and was headed toward the barn. Before he got to the barn I saw him slamming the axe into the long grass at the side of the driveway. I had been watching out the living room window, terrified he was going to hurt the animals in the barn. My heart pounded and I flushed with heat – I knew it was my kitten Sandy in the grass. My mom wouldn’t let me leave the house. Finally after knocking down the drive shed with the tractor and ramming it into some other machinery, Barry left in his truck. I ran down the drive and there was Sandy in a heap, and looking stunned. I scooped him up and gently walked up to the house crying. Mom and I took Sandy to Doc Adams and luckily he was there. They made me go back out to the car to wait. Mom eventually came out and explained Sandy was too badly hurt and Doc had said he needed to have his pain stopped. Somehow I had known and I just starred ahead. I was numb. My friend wouldn’t be sleeping on my pillow ever again.
I felt so utterly helpless to protect my animals, and they were all mine. I loved even the funny looking ones. I understood and shared their fears. There was also other violence in my family, and alcoholism, plus a real lack of respect for the individual be they human or animal.
As a young adult I made many poor choices. I decided to get married and make my own safe family. The relationship I had with my boyfriend was rocky; however somehow I thought that would all change once we were committed to one another. Unfortunately I was wrong and he became abusive toward me. There was constant verbal put-downs and he would shove, kick and hit me if I disagreed with him. He was very similar in behaviour toward me as my brother, David. He was also violent toward our English setter, Brody. Brody would piddle and cower when my husband spoke to him. He would sink to the floor and crawl on his belly towards my husband, begging for kindness. My husband repeatedly shook him when he had an accident while we were house training him. Brody’s nose was rubbed in feces if there was a mess. My husband also shook me. Luckily for Brody, my husband made me take him back to the breeder, he was too much of a wimp. I was relieved. Now he had a chance at a good safe home. I stayed with this man believing if only I was a perfect wife he would change his treatment of me. I just had to try harder. Eventually he forced me to leave and my world fell apart.
It was impossible for me to defend myself or my animals in my life. The violence perpetrated against me and my animal friends from my brothers, then my first husband, left me with no idea what a respectful, violence free life could be like. Charlotte A. Lacroix, in her essay, “Another weapon for combating family violence”, says” Violence exhibited by one family member against another rarely involves a single act of abuse against one type of victim. In fact, where there is one form of family violence, there are likely to be others.” She goes on to state that the American Psychological Association, 1996, finds “the abuse usually results from a perpetrator’s misuse of power and control over their victims: the psychological and socio-cultural factors that lead to the violence are often the same regardless of the type of victim; and the psychological effects and symptoms experienced by victims of family violence are similar”. Barbara W. Boat has given a suggestion for professionals to watch for in her essay “Abuse of Children Abuse of Animals” by saying “reports of children of frequent pet turnovers or loss of pets may red flag a chaotic household where the safety of the children is also compromised”. I never had an old pet.
I thought my life was ok. I had good moments and heartaches as does everyone, unfortunately there were many skeletons in my closet. At my last place of employment I ran into a workplace bully. My warning system told me to beware of her but unfortunately I became a target for her abuse. I mentally could not withstand any more punishment in my life. I succumbed to horrid memories of all the abuses in my life to both myself and even my animal friends. I took myself to the emergency room and was admitted for care. I was overcome with a major depression and PTSD. I was unable to work, do household chores, and even going grocery shopping was impossible without my husband accompanying me. I didn’t wash my hair or brush my teeth. I lay in bed and the only reason I would get up was to walk my steadfast friend, Boober our Border Collie/Bernese Mountain Dog or go to visit my horse, Silly. My animal friends were my reason to go on living. I was committed to their care. I was terrified about making a mistake and that translated into me doing nothing. I couldn’t make decisions or prioritize what tasks needed to be done. When I did try to do things I would have an anxiety attack that sometimes turned into a full blown panic attack. That happened in 2001. After countless hours of therapy and medication, along with a kind and patient husband, number three, I am finally able to recognize the psychological injury that was caused to me by my brothers and others. I felt I had no control over events in my life; I became a puppet to be used and abused by the bullies and perverts of society.
Now, eight and a half years later, I stand up against violence aimed at any person or animal. Research confirms my experience and gives me hope. I am not the only person who has become mentally injured by watching animal abuse and gone on to allow myself to be abused. Professional people must be alerted to the warning signs that animal abuse is devastating not only for the animal, but also for the people who love and care for the animal.” Trauma tends to beget trauma”, says Jon G. Allen author of Traumatic Relationships and Serious Mental Disorders. Trauma becomes “normalized” in the victim’s life. The person becomes “unable to recognize dangerous situations or people or high risk environments. The individual doesn’t get the chance to learn safe attachment behaviors”. I am a poster person for this research. I watched my animal friends victimized. I was simultaneously abused and subsequently abused throughout my life.
I couldn’t stop it. I had my best friends killed, one while I watched. To this day I have no idea why or how anyone, let alone my big brothers and ex-husband, could be so mean, cruel, and violent. Intellectually I have read why, and I think I understand, but emotionally, it still makes no sense to me. Intervention must occur swiftly and diligently. Without intervention many more people will become ill and live a mere shadow of an existence. We need to provide a safe place for the animals to go to when their human friends, the two- legged victims, of abuse and violence, finally have the courage and are making the choice to leave abusive situations.
I was asked what would have helped me and my first thought was the abusers needed to just stop. I didn’t think there was anyone to tell. I also thought everyone lived like me; looking back though Doc Adams knew. He gave me ointments and advice on how to care for the animal’s injuries. I really didn’t care about me. I looked up to Doc, he was gentle and kind to the animals. He smiled at me. I wonder what would have happened if I had confided in him?
If you are the victim of domestic violence and you have concerns for the safety of your pets — help is available. Those who harm or threaten to harm animals are demonstrating their willingness to resort to violence. Even if you have not yet been assaulted if someone is threatening to or has harmed your pets you are in danger.
It is a difficult decision to leave while knowing your pets may be harmed in retaliation. However, there may be a program in your area that can help. For example the Calgary Humane Society offers a program to help you leave an abusive situation while also providing for the needs of your pets and protect them too.
The Humane Society's Pet Safekeeping Program "provides short-term housing at no charge for animals belonging to individuals in crisis due to family violence or abuse. The Pet Safekeeping Program offers safety planning and support to victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable individuals - providing a safe alternative to remaining in a situation that is dangerous to both themselves and their pets."
Of course it's good if you have family and freinds who can help but if you don't have that option contact your crisis shelter or social worker and ask if they can refer you to the Human Society's Pet Safekeeping Program.
If that program is not available in your area you may direct them to the Calgary Humane Society to learn about the program and consider starting one there.
For more information visit www.calgaryhumane.ca