- After my boyfriend at the time cheated on me, I adopted a dog in an attempt to save our relationship.
- Having to take care of our new pup gave me the courage to end my abusive relationship.
- I was able to leave because my friend’s dog and mine got along, so I was able to move in with her.
A handful of years ago, I adopted a black Lab in the hopes of saving my relationship after my partner Chris — not his real name for privacy reasons — cheated on me.
Since we’d moved to a new city, his jealousy and paranoia had gotten worse. Any time I left the apartment, he texted and called constantly with questions, demands, threats. To avoid fighting, I’d slowly shrunken my world.
I found a doe-eyed black Lab on Craigslist, and Chris encouraged me to get him. But upon seeing the emaciated, three-ish-year-old dog, his tone shifted. He emphasized that this was my dog, my responsibility. I agreed, hoping he’d grow on him. We named him Forest.
Little did I know that Forest was not there to save my relationship, but to help me begin to see the effects of my partner’s emotional abuse.
I had to take him out for walks, even when I didn’t have the energy to
Ever since Chris and I moved, I’d struggled to go to school or the grocery store. He was so controlling, I was constantly anxious. The few times I did leave, I often found myself rushing back home, gasping for air, hoping to find calm inside.
But I had to take Forest out. As we bonded, he began to follow me everywhere, nudging my arm and knocking it off my laptop, disrupting my long and teary baths with cries and scratches at the door.
After weeks of circling the apartment grounds, I knew he deserved better, so we started exploring nearby neighborhoods, even a park across the street.
Although I battled immense anxiety during our walks, I slowly began to recognize pieces of my old self again: a girl who could smile at and talk to strangers without the world ending, someone who wanted to feel wanted, be social, connect.
When I came home from work one evening and Chris told me he’d locked Forest in the bedroom because he’d attacked him, I didn’t believe him. “Forest wouldn’t do that,” I said.
Chris told me this was serious, that maybe we should get rid of him. I hurried past him to let Forest out and he rushed to me, tail thumping against the wall. Holding him, I looked back at Chris. I knew I’d never get rid of Forest. He was, I realized, one thing I wouldn’t let Chris take away from me.
The reality was my partner terrified Forest. When Chris started screaming, Forest ran away and crawled under the bed, his tail stuck between his legs. I’d tried to tell Chris to stop, but his outbursts were getting worse.
The more I spent time outside of the house, the more I realized I needed to leave
It wasn’t until Chris humiliated me in front of my employer and dozens of my colleagues at one of the largest events of the year — my first reading — that I began to consider leaving him. I’d just finished sharing my essay when he got up onstage and cussed out the entire room.
The more time I spent outside the apartment, the more Chris’ violence escalated. A few weeks later, I locked him out of our bedroom to get away from him. As Chris pounded on the door and Forest trembled in my arms, I felt afraid for our lives for the first time.
In the morning, I told Chris it was over. I was breaking the lease. I texted a friend to ask if I could stay with her for a while. She said yes—as long as our dogs got along.
As Forest ran around her living room and her hound pup, Igby, howled with joy, I started to believe living there could be a real possibility, if only for a break.
While I’m grateful that Forest and Igby got along, I don’t know where I would be if they hadn’t. Back then, I couldn’t afford a nonrefundable pet deposit, let alone a move.
97% of domestic violence survivors say keeping their pets is an important consideration in seeking shelter, per a recent survey. About half worried their partner would hurt or kill their pet and wouldn’t leave without them.
With rising rates of domestic violence, providing shelter to pets through safe havens is one simple but powerful way animal lovers can help each other — because no one should have to go through this journey without their best friend.
I used to believe that Forest saved me, but as the years have rolled on, I’ve come to understand our story is much more beautiful than that. We found a home in each other. We helped each other recover and grow. We showed each other that loving someone means letting them be free.