by Rev. Renee


When I was five years old I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was told I made medical history at the time. While I was recovering from surgery and a long hospitalization, my wonderful Aunt Florrie gave me a puppy from her dog’s litter. I named my little black and white spaniel mix Dondi, after a popular comic strip character. My grandfather always read the “funny pages” to me, and Dondi was one of his favorites.

Dondi and I bonded instantly and he was my companion during my recovery. I have many warm memories of taking walks with him and my beloved Gramps around our Brooklyn neighborhood and in Highland Park, where my grandfather taught me how to get Dondi to walk on a leash. Gramps was a kind and gentle soul who loved animals and helped me care for Dondi.

When I was seven, my birth-parents bought a house in the suburbs and we moved from Gramp’s house. My parents were not what you would call responsible pet owners. They never walked Dondi, they just let him run loose. They didn’t neuter him, so he got in a lot of dog fights. They never took him to the vet, leaving me to patch him up as best I could with whatever supplies I could find. Dondi always knew I would help him, and every time he got hurt, he would come to me and stand patiently while I tried to fix him up. One time he got his dew claw caught in his chain and ripped it out. There was blood all over and it must have been very painful. My parents still did not take him to the vet. I was only eight years old, and did the best I could to stop the bleeding with paper towels and patch him up with Bandaids.

Whenever I played outside, Dondi was my faithful guardian. He was just a little guy, but he stuck by me. One time I was shakily riding a new, very tall bike down the street, with Dondi trotting behind me, and the neighbor’s boy came after me with a stick, trying to knock me off my bike. I was terrified of falling and yelled at the boy to get away from me while he tried to poke the stick through my spokes. Dondi nipped him on the butt, and he ran off.

Soon his parents were at my house to complain to my parents. My birth-father proceeded to give me a beating in front of the neighbors, while I cried that their son was chasing me with a stick and trying to knock me off my bike, and that Dondi had only protected me. The neighbors seemed to take pity on me. I don’t think they expected my father to beat me and they seemed quite shocked when he did. Their attitude changed immediately. They insisted their son wasn’t hurt and it wasn’t a big deal, but they did want Dondi observed by a vet for rabies, since my parents let him run free and had never gotten him his shots.

My parents had no concern for my safety or how badly I might have been hurt if I fell off my bike. You’d think they would have given Dondi a steak dinner for saving their child from being injured. He was doing his doggie job. Instead, I remember my father throwing him in the car to go to the vet and my mother screaming “Leave him there! Don’t bring him home again! I don’t want him here anymore! Get rid of him!” I was hysterical, begging and crying so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. “Please, please don’t get rid of him. He didn’t do anything wrong! He was only trying to protect me!” I was in an absolute panic, and they did nothing to calm me or reassure me. They just kept yelling at me and threatening that Dondi wasn’t coming back.

Looking back, I can’t believe this whole cruel and dreadful scene, which was actually pretty typical of hundreds of other scenes throughout my childhood. Who inflicts this kind of drama on a seven-year old? I have no memories of my parents ever defending me or being concerned for my welfare, but I have plenty of memories of betrayals, and the victim or whoever tried to defend the victim, being viciously turned on. No wonder the doctors had to put me on valium at age eleven. I was a total nervous wreck. Dondi was only a dog, but to a lonely, scared, and depressed little girl with a volatile, unpredictable, and unstable home life, he was the only one who ever tried to protect me, and he was the only one who loved me unconditionally. He was pretty much everything I had. What had happened wasn’t my fault, but instead of confronting the neighbors over their child trying to injure me, my parents were going to make me pay for it, begging and sobbing, until I made myself sick.

Dondi spent a couple of days at the vet being observed for signs of rabies, and I guess my parents thought it over, because they did bring him home, and he was back to wandering the neighborhood. One morning I was on my way to school and Dondi came home, bleeding from his rear end. As usual, he came to me for help. I didn’t know what to do. When my parents saw him, they told me he’d be fine and hustled me off to school.

All day long I worried about Dondi. I couldn’t wait to get home and make sure he was okay. But when I got home, he was gone. They told me he ran away. A couple of days later, I got a short typewritten note in the mail. The note was from a truck-driver who said he picked Dondi up in the snow and took him to California, where he would give him a good life.

Well, needless to say, I cried for days. I was glad Dondi was okay, but I just knew he’d try to come home, like Lassie. I never forgot, and I never stopped looking for him. For the next couple of years, every time I heard a dog bark outside, I’d go running to see if Dondi was back. Many times I got up in the middle of the night, ran down two flights of stairs, and outside in the dark in my pajamas in our big backyard bordering the woods, calling for him, because I’d heard barking. One day, when I was ten, I was in the car with my mother and I saw a dog that looked like him, walking on a leash with a lady. I began screaming at my mother to stop the car because I just saw Dondi. She wouldn’t stop, and I was in a panic.

So finally, she told me the truth. That day when they had sent me to school, Dondi died. She claimed they took him to the vet, if I could even believe her at this point, and the vet said he probably got hit by a car. He managed to get home to me, so I’m sure he was well enough to be treated, but no way would my parents spend a dime more on him. So they had him put to sleep. And then they sent me a phony note from a non-existent truck driver.

I was absolutely inconsolable. I cried myself sick. This is how my two plus year wait for Dondi to find his way back home ended. My mother could not understand why I was so upset. She thought enough time had passed for me to get over it. But I had never mourned his death. I had been lied to, tricked, and deceived- told that he was fine and living a nice life. I never expected to hear that he had died that day. And worst of all, I wasn’t there for him. Every time he was hurt, he came to me for help, and now he died, and he died alone. He trusted me to help him, and I went to school while they assured me he’d be fine. I wasn’t there for him, and he didn’t have any way of knowing that I didn’t know. That I would have been there for him if I could have. In his little doggy brain, while he lay there dying, he must have been wondering where I was and why I wasn’t coming for him. The guilt and sorrow I felt over this haunted me for the rest of my childhood.



By the time my birth-mother confessed the truth about Dondi, we had been almost three years without a dog. I loved dogs, and had spent every spare minute at the houses of various kind neighbors, who let me play with their dogs. Now I was so distraught over learning the truth about Dondi, that my birth-mother, apparently in a moment of weakness, finally relented and decided to get me another dog.

She decided on a Miniature Poodle, and presented me with a little black puppy. I named her Babette, and I loved her dearly. Babette was a great dog, sweet and gentle, lovable and cuddly, and smart as a whip. I spent hours training her. We raced through basic and advanced obedience so fast that I started making up complicated tricks for her. When she came in from outside (I never let her go out without watching her like a hawk), she would wipe her feet, one by one, on the mat, and then turn around and push the door closed. I would make mazes for her out of chairs and other obstacles, and have her figure out how to get the treat at the end. I did dog training demonstrations with her at school and at the local library.

Babette was what was called a “pocket mini”, somewhere between a miniature and a toy poodle in size. She wasn’t tiny, but she was small, weighing maybe ten or twelve pounds. Whenever I walked her, if another dog approached, I would pick her up to protect her. One neighbor had a terrier that was often running loose. He would jump on me, snapping at Babette, while I held her and fended him off until we got out of his range. I was very careful to take excellent care of my sweet girl.

But my parents had not grown up at all in the area of responsible pet ownership. Even though my mother had chosen the breed of dog to get for me, knowing that Poodles require regular haircuts, she did not want to pay for grooming. So she got me a set of clippers, and I taught myself. Every six weeks I would bathe Babette and give her a haircut, and every day I would brush her and comb the knots out of her fur. She would get bad ear infections, and I would clean and medicate her ears, buying ear medicine at the pet store out of my own money. One time the infection got so bad, she required surgery to straighten out her ear canals. It was barbaric, and the incompetent vet we had left her out in a dog run in the rain to come out of the anesthesia. By now, I was in junior high, and my mother told me to pick up Babette after school. When I went to get her, she was soaked. I did my best to dry her, wrapped her in my coat, and then walked a mile and a half home, in the rain, carrying my books and a semi-conscious dog. It would never have occurred to my mother to get in her car and pick us up, or at least pick up Babette after she had just undergone surgery, even if she left me to walk.

When Babette was about a year old, my mother decided to breed her, because her mother, my grandmother, wanted a puppy. The breeder warned that the puppies would have big heads and Babette had a narrow pelvis. He said to make sure we kept in touch with the vet. My mother decided that since I knew so much about dogs, I should handle the delivery. Mind you, I was eleven years old, and had never attended the delivery of anything except tropical fish. The vet told my mother to let nature take its course and not to intervene. One by one, the puppy’s heads got stuck, and one by one they died. I did everything I could to revive them, but it was too late. Babette’s labor continued for hours, and she was too exhausted to continue. All the while, my mother sat there watching her suffer and me trying my best, and never lifted a finger to help or called the vet. Finally, by the fourth puppy, I decided to start pulling. The last two pups were born alive. The breeder was to take the pick of the litter in lieu of a stud fee, and my grandmother would get her pup.

Babette was so torn up from the births that she got a bad infection, which required another trip to the vet, and me bottle-feeding her puppies until she returned. I could tell my mother was angry, but at least she took her. I guess she didn’t want her to die before she was done nursing my grandmother’s puppy. It wasn’t until having my own kids and learning just what kids are capable of at different ages that it dawned on me how cruel, irresponsible, and downright stupid it was to burden an eleven-year old child with the responsibility my mother had thrown in my lap that day.

Throughout high school and part of college, Babette was my constant companion. She provided me with love and stability in my nut-job home. She was slowing down a bit with age, and turning a grizzled grey. But she was still loving, smart, and obedient.

At twenty, I was getting ready to leave home and move into my own place, and I had every intention of taking my dog with me. Just before I left, my birth-mother sat me down for a talk. “Your sister and I are very attached to Babette,” she said. “We love her very much. You can’t take her away from us. If you do, we’re going to miss her terribly. We’ll be heartbroken. Babette is old now, almost eleven. It wouldn’t be fair to her to take her out of the only home she’s ever known. She’s too old to have to adjust to a new place. Besides, you work, you won’t be home all day. She’ll be all alone. Meanwhile, I’m home during the day to be with her, and your sister gets home from school early and can spend time with her. She’s just going to be lonely if you take her. You’ll be coming back here all the time anyway to see her. Let her stay with us. It’ll be the best thing for her……”

I had to concede that a couple of the things she said were true, like that I would be at work all day and Babette would be alone. She WAS old, and maybe it wasn’t fair to uproot her. I had my doubts, but against my better judgment, I let her stay with them. I moved into my apartment and did come home often and see her. But I missed having a dog. So I went out a got a beautiful Siberian Husky named Shayde.

Well, about a year down the road, I got the call. My mother called me in hysterics to tell me that they had let Babette out, ALONE, to go to the bathroom, and she was attacked and killed by a neighbor’s black German Shepherd, who was running loose. Babette was trained to never leave our property, but the bigger dog had come into my parent’s front yard. Another neighbor, who lived across the street, saw the attack, yelled to his wife to call my parents, grabbed a broom, and ran outside to try and save Babette. But when he got there, it was too late. This huge dog, ten times Babette’s size, had tossed her in the air like a ragdoll, breaking her neck. My birth-father tried to give her CPR while my mother tried to call the vet, but Babette was already gone. They buried her in the backyard so my sister wouldn’t come home and see her, and once again I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

In that few seconds, I was instantly transported back in time. AGAIN, I had a little dog who trusted me to be there to protect her, and I wasn’t there. I was prevented from being there. Babette was minding her own business, having no way of knowing the danger she was in, but she was out of view from the house. My parents weren’t watching her, just like they didn’t watch Dondi. They just let her loose, just like they let him loose. Every time a big dog approached her, I had been there to pick her up and keep her safe. But this time, I wasn’t. She was helpless against the onslaught of this 120 pound beast. She died a violent death, terrified, not understanding why nobody was helping her.

I was totally devastated. But at that point, it had not yet occurred to me to be angry at my irresponsible parents, who just let my SECOND dog get killed in pretty much the same way my first dog had gotten killed- by their negligence. All I could think of was how heartbroken they must be, and my sister as well. The next day, I tearfully got on the phone to find them a new poodle puppy. I found a breeder who was agreeable when I explained the situation and asked if I could return the pup if my mother and sister were too upset to accept her. I took seventy-five dollars, all the money I had at the time, and bought them Tara.

When I brought Tara to their house, my mother and sister burst into tears and instantly fell in love with her. We cried together as we mourned Babette. But birth-father had a different reaction. He was furious at me. For doing a kind deed for his wife and other daughter. For bringing them a new puppy to help them get over their grief. Because I didn’t ask his permission first, and now they loved the puppy so much he didn’t have the nerve to say no to them. He scowled viciously at me and scolded me angrily. How dare I, in my grief, do something nice for them, without consulting him first, when HE was the head of this family! He gave me the silent treatment for a week. All because I had tried to do something to make HIM and HIS family feel better for killing MY dog, without running it by him first. There was no thank-you and not a shred of gratitude. The control-freak had lost control. I had disrespected his position as head of the household, and that’s all he cared about. If I was going to get yelled at anyway, maybe I should have gotten him a big, hairy Saint Bernard so he’d REALLY have something to complain about.

Babette’s death traumatized me greatly, and the guilt and grief was overwhelming. I vowed never to own another dog that couldn’t take care of itself in a fight, and after Shayde, I have only had Dobermans and American Bulldogs. It took me many years before I could look back and realize, with some surprise, that nobody had ever comforted ME that day. Nobody hugged me or even sat and let me cry over the loss of MY dog. I was the one bringing a new puppy and trying to console THEM, but THEY didn’t express any condolences at all to ME over Babette’s death. They were consumed with their own feelings and the new puppy, and I was left to deal with my feelings and grief on my own. This was my role- to be the family caretaker, and even in a tragedy, I had to maintain that role and care for them while no one cared for me. I had been indoctrinated into being the family “fixer” since birth, while my needs were ignored. And if my efforts didn’t meet with their approval, I would be punished or reprimanded, like Daddy Darling did when I brought Tara to them without asking his permission. I didn’t realize it then, but this scenario was a normal part of my life, and would be repeated many, many times in the future.

It was also quite a while before it dawned on me that my parents never even apologized for what happened. They let Babette get killed on their watch. It was their fault she died. But they never expressed any remorse or accepted any responsibility for sending her out by herself and not watching her. My mother “loved her” so much she didn’t want me to take her when I moved, but apparently she didn’t love her enough to get off her lazy butt, put her on a leash, and walk her so she would be safe. My parents never told me they were sorry my dog had been killed. They certainly never told me they were sorry they didn’t watch her and keep her safe. I had entrusted them with her care, and because they were lazy and careless, she was dead. Their negligence was even more inexcusable when you consider that the last dog I had, Dondi, ALSO died because they let him run loose and didn’t watch him. You would think they would have learned their lesson and been much more vigilant with Babette. But they weren’t. Why did they not think they owed me, at the very least, an apology for being responsible for killing my dog?

If I had taken Babette with me when I moved, she would have lived many more years, and died a peaceful death. She would never have died a violent, terrifying death. But in abusive families, no good deed goes unpunished. My birth-mother put me on the spot, in an impossible situation. Be selfish and take Babette away from all she knows, uprooting her and making my mother and sister miss her, or do what was best for everybody else and leave her with them, even though I would miss her. I didn’t want to be selfish. I was young and foolish and still trusted my family at that point, so I tried to do what Mommy Darling insisted was best. Turns out leaving Babette with them was NOT the best thing, by far, for her. It got her killed. Babette was MY dog, and there was no reason for anybody to presume that I shouldn’t take her with me. I have regretted this decision all of my life. A decision I should never have been asked to make in the first place.




My experiences with my beloved childhood pets were only the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of a lifetime of being put in awkward positions, forced to make uncomfortable choices that no one should have to make, and then made to live through the consequences with no support and no appreciation. Control freaks and abusers are experts at trapping us, cornering us, imposing upon us, making us squirm, and watching us suffer. I was indoctrinated from birth to put their desires first, even at the expense of my own desires, or I would be “selfish”. And selfish was a shameful thing to be. It meant you were a bad person.

In normal families, situations come up, and the family members handle them in normal ways. In a normal family, there is never a question about whether it’s safe to send your mother a card on Mother’s Day, or to spend Christmas with the relatives. You don’t even have to think about it. You can just go and have a nice time. Yes, there might be some tension and stress, but it will be manageable. It will not be toxic and abusive.

In normal families, if we go to work for the family business, there is a certain level of trust. Yes, there will probably be disagreements, but because there is love and goodwill between the relatives, they will be worked out. There is every reason to believe that any issues which arise will be resolved fairly and with everybody’s best interests taken into consideration. If our parent promises us that we will inherit the family business when he retires, we can trust him and believe that if we devote years of our lives to building that business, our own futures will be secure. But in abusive families, you’d have to be delusional to believe this. There is almost no chance that you will not wind up getting cheated somehow, and then getting blamed for all the problems, to boot.

In a normal family, you wouldn’t bat an eye at attending a wedding. Of course, you would look forward to celebrating your big days with your family as well, and there would be no agonizing over whether or not to send them an invitation. In a normal family, whether or not you should visit the deathbed or go to the funeral of your relative wouldn’t be an issue. It wouldn’t require a second thought, much less turn into a nerve-wracking decision. You would naturally just go, and you and all your other relatives would support and comfort each other. But in abusive families, it’s a whole different ballgame. Exposing yourself to them has to be weighed against protecting yourself. No matter how you feel or what you decide, you’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

There are no win-win propositions in abusive families, at least not for us, the targets. We are continually put in uncomfortable positions, and sometimes downright preposterous predicaments, finding ourselves painted into a corner and having to make difficult decisions that people in normal families never have to worry about. It’s always a losing proposition. Either way, no matter what we decide to do, we’ll live to regret it. It’s just a matter of making the choice we’re going to regret the least. It’s a matter of damage control.

I guess there wasn’t much I could have done about Dondi. I was, after all, only eight years old. But looking back, would I rather have taken Babette with me, made my mother and sister suck it up and deal with “missing her”, and have her live out her life and die in peace, or was it better to not upset the apple cart and live with knowing that her life ended in a brutal attack that could have been so easily prevented? Of course, if I had realized how selfish, lazy, uncaring and neglectful they were, I would never have left her with them. The story of my beloved Babette was only one of hundreds of times in my life that I was told or made to feel that I was being selfish if I wanted to do anything that went against my birth-mother’s wishes, even if it meant hurting my other loved ones or myself, or exposing the rest of us to potential harm. But it wasn’t selfishness, it was self-preservation.

The unfortunate reality is that when you try to do something nice for narcissists, abusers, and sociopaths, it will always come back and bite you. Know that they are not normal people, and they are never going to act like normal people. They are not normal parents, and they will not act like normal parents. They will use and abuse you. They only care about themselves. They don’t care about you, or the effects their behavior has on you. They are perfectly okay with getting what they want at your expense; in fact, they expect this and believe they’re entitled to it. THEY have no problem at all being selfish, but they will then turn around and project this trait onto YOU, to divert attention away from the fact that it is literally what DEFINES THEM.

You shouldn’t have to make a choice. You shouldn’t have to think first, because you can’t trust your own family. Normal families cooperate, compromise, and consider each other’s feelings. Normal people are mature and understand that they might not get everything they’d like. But narcissists don’t acknowledge the existence of other people, much less allow them to have their own feelings, needs, and desires. Abusers and sadists want SACRIFICE and control. They want it all. Eventually, you WILL be cornered and forced to choose. So choose YOU.

The trick is to try and anticipate, predict where and what could go wrong, ignore any unjustified guilt you might be feeling, and handle these awkward situations in a way that is best for YOU and your loved ones. Don’t let your abusers pressure you or put you on the spot. Take all the time you need to think it over. Don’t be afraid to state your own terms for cooperating with them. This is not selfish. It’s prudent and reasonable. If it comes to a choice between THEM being unhappy, or YOU being unhappy, or risking the peace or well-being of your own loved ones, then let THEM be unhappy. They’ll just have to accept that you can’t always get what you want. It wasn’t until I was in my forties, when my parents’ behavior began to affect my own children, that I finally learned this lesson. From then on, whenever a conflict arose and it was impossible to please everybody, I started making decisions based on what was best for me and my family, and not what was best for my birth-parents. In our last showdown, when my narcissistic mother finally forced me to choose between her and my son, I chose my son. She responded by disowning me, and it was the best thing she ever did for me.

On this site, we will discuss some of the difficult dilemmas and impossible situations many of us will eventually find ourselves in, as targets or escapees from abusive families. I pray that you will find it helpful in negotiating your family’s narcissistic minefields. As always, I urge you to pray for our Father’s loving guidance in helping you handle each situation you might someday have to deal with, and for his perfect peace about every decision you will have to make.