My neighbours used to keep their dog in an enclosure even a zoo would criticise. When I moved here, I asked the SPCA to see to the problem, so these days, he has access to the entire garden. There’s grass for rolling in, corners for hiding, and space for running. Bobby doesn’t use them, though. He stays in his old enclosure, imprisoned by a non-existent gate.
Like any human abuse victim, he’s been trained to confine himself even when his freedom is close enough to touch.
In the same way, control is not your abuser’s rage, but all the moments in between when you behave as he wants you to even though he’s not even there.
Bobby used to bite when I touched his collar and growl when I got near his food. You could have called him a problem dog and relegated him to his self-imposed prison. You could have declared him too aggressive.
Too antisocial. Too dangerous.
You could have abandoned him, but then you would never have gotten to know the sweet-natured dog he is today.
Abuse victims aren’t always fun to know in the beginning. Pushed beyond their means, they seem fragile and untrusting. Sometimes, they even attack. If you’ve been gaslighted, you must protect your frail connection to sanity, so love disappears. Kindness disappears. Even honesty disappears.
Or at least they seem to. In truth, they’ve been wrapped in eider down and hidden away where they can’t be weaponised. Just like a dog who’s never found out what it means to be loved, survivors must protect every resource because the world has been a hostile place for far too long.
When Bobby started learning trust, he used to spend his visits with us running back and forth between each person as though we might disappear. Maybe he needed to make sure everyone was still here, or maybe he just missed us five minutes after he’d last seen us. He wanted to be with everyone all of the time, and he followed me everywhere.
These days, he’s happy to walk around the property without me and nap on the opposite side of the room. He knows that when he opens his eyes, he’ll get all the belly rubs he needs, so he doesn’t cling anymore. He’s a survivor, and abandonment doesn’t loom over his head like a falling sky.
A year later, he still doesn’t use his garden, but take him to the estuary and he runs faster than the South Easter that chases him. Away from the source of his imprisonment, he is utterly, utterly free. The world is his playground, and his unbreakable spirit has wings.