I’ll start by saying that the “his” in my title comes from the fact that this story is about my sociopathic male ex. That being said, I’m sure many of you can think of women who fit this unique description of an “animal lover.”
So let’s begin.
My ex loves to tell people how much he loves dogs. He’ll also say he loves horses and sheep and cows and chickens and all other sorts of farm and wild animals, but dogs are tops.
And there’s something really unique about the way a sociopath “loves” a vulnerable creature. It’s confusing, wonderful, horrifying, and most often blindsiding. Sometimes, it’s even used to shame others. Like me.
You see, a couple years ago, I had a little Frenchie-bulldog who was so gentle she wouldn’t chase our house rabbit but so aggressive that she often tried to bite our neighbors. I lived in a row-house of sorts with a shared yard, and she never quite got used to any of the people who lived around us. We tried all kinds of techniques with her, but she still chased our neighbors and bit their clothes.
They were scared to death of her.
She would also try to attack any dog of any size that came within 50 feet of us. I was a single mom of three in grad school with no money for a fenced yard even if I was allowed to have one, so I started to think that maybe our beloved Sadie would be happier or at least better off in a home with a yard and a bit more privacy.
So after much thought and heartache, I placed her with a group of trainers who specialized in rehabilitating little dogs and placing them in ideal environments for their needs. They’d work diligently to do the things I didn’t know how to do, and then they’d find her a yard with a fence.
These trainers were mad at me for having Sadie in the first place, given that I was busy with grad school. She wasn’t trained well enough. I felt ashamed and worthless and terrible. My kids cried and sobbed and yelled at me for placing her.
Our house felt empty.
I still miss her today. I still wonder whether it was a mistake, and it always makes me cry.
Like right now.
But then in comes my ex. Always one to capitalize on any opportunity to make me look even worse, he joined my kids in their crying even though he hadn’t been with me for years and never knew Sadie at all.
He’d tell people that I must be “heartless,” and that he couldn’t understand people like me who would just “throw away their family pet like that.”
At our son’s game, he asked publicly (as a self-appointed representative for our children) how I could do such a thing. He told me that “dogs are kind of like a member of the family.”
Everyone thought I was heartless.
He’d talk endlessly about how much he loves dogs.
And he “loves” dogs.
So let’s talk about what that love looks like.
A Sociopath Expects No Expectations
Most dogs I know will love you no matter what. Even more, dogs that are abused seem to show a pattern of trauma bonding that may be similar to people—something that looks like submission and adoration and begging and delight all at once.
So my ex rescued a dog long ago, before we were even together. He and his girlfriend-before-me went to a shelter and found a shiny black lab with scars all over her face and a sweetheart nature. No one knew much about her, but he took her everywhere and loved to tell the story about how he saved her from “the pound.” He’d say, “I saved her life.”
“She looks pretty good now, but you should’ve seen her. She was covered with scars—all over her face. I don’t know who could treat such a sweetheart like that. Such a sweetheart. Now sit, Rosie. Watch this, watch her sit up. It’s hilarious.”
And he’d tell her to sit up, and she’d be so excited to please him that she’d throw her front paws so high in the air that she’d fall over backward or sideways every time. She never tried to catch herself—she’d be so focused on watching his eyes.
She was a wonderful dog. Long after he split with his girlfriend-before-me and long after we got together and married, that sweet-hearted dog would flop in the kiddie pool with our tiny children and never step on their feet.
I loved her. She’s lay so close to me while I stood at the kitchen sink that I often tripped backward over her. She loved her people.
But sometimes she would pee on the rug.
And that would mean a beating from my ex. If he caught her. With fists and feet and all.
Because rules are rules, and dogs don’t pee on the rug. Not in his house.
If I was there, I’d stop him. I’d yell at him. We’d fight. And then he’d love on Rosie all over again, calling her to him as he lectured and yelled at me for stopping him. He’d rub her ears. She would lay at his feet. He would start gushing about how she was a sweetheart. The one-sided, unconditional dedication seemed to thrill him.
And he demanded it.
He had another dog, too, when we got together. Because he “loves” dogs so much. And this one liked to chase buzzards in the sky, so sometimes he would wander away. This was unacceptable, sure, but I watched my ex hold him by the collar and kick him repeatedly in the stomach and ribs when he finally got him back. Which I didn’t think was an ok way of teaching him that lesson.
So I’d run out to them and ask him to stop.
Tell him to stop.
And then he would. And he’d flip right into loving on that poor, limping dog. I’d often wonder what would happen if I hadn’t made it out there to help.
The Sociopath Loves to Make You Do Tricks
Both of those original dogs are long gone. One to a car and one to old age. And how a sociopath deals with old age is to turn you out into the snow because he doesn’t want to take the chance that you’ll throw up on his rug.
So when Rosie died, she died alone. Out on his deck in a January blizzard, begging at the back door to be let inside to lay by the fire she loved so much.
My daughter cried and cried over the loss. She was infuriated that her dad wouldn’t let Rosie in like normal. Her brothers had learned by then to sit silently and say nothing.
And then Rosie was gone.
I still cry over that one, too. I loved that girl, and I always wonder if I should’ve taken her with me when I left.
She was like a member of the family.
But then she was pretty easily replaced. He quickly got an American Bulldog who looks super scary when you pull in his driveway but who generally puts her belly to the ground and will do pretty much anything you ask of her.
Her name is Bailey.
And Bailey can sit, lay down, stay, and play dead if you act like you’re shooting her. My ex loves to show people this trick. Teaching dogs tricks is a joy to him. He loves to make them run through each one. He tells our children all the time that Bailey is the best dog in the world. That she is far smarter than my stupid dogs who in his opinion know nothing and are pretty much a waste of human time. He talks about these things. Incessantly. It’s critically important to him that our children love Bailey and think little of any pets we now have at our house.
Because he loves his dog so much. He loves Bailey to pieces. He shows her off, he takes her places, and he loves to make her play dead for people. He loves how much she loves him. He adores her unconditional affection. He claims she’s like one of his children.
And then he leaves her locked outside with no blanket during the coldest weather in fifty years.
He throws her out of second story windows if she happens to pee on the second floor.
He holds her by her collar and kicks her body repeatedly if she does wrong.
He beats her with his hands.
And then he rubs her all over.
He tells her she’s the best dog on earth.
And he does all this in front of our kids.
Which always makes me wonder:
What does he do when no one’s there?
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