There’s been a lot written about the devastating effect psychopaths have on other people, but what about their pets? Do psychopaths even have enough empathy to keep pets?
Unfortunately, yes they do. But for them, pets are a means to an end, a creature that can be exploited in various ways that serve the psychopath, rather than a friend and companion. A pet can be a way to “keep up with the Joneses” (if most of their neighbors and relatives have pets). They have no genuine love for the animals under their care, and often treat them badly or even abuse them. Here is an article I just read last night where the blogger calls out his MN sister about the callous way she puts her cat to sleep because she’s moving, even though there’s nothing wrong with the cat. Later the blogger describes the cruel manner in which the woman’s two beautiful dogs are left outside on a chain even in the searing heat or freezing cold, and are never played with or paid attention to. Eventually, this cold woman tells her brother she will be having her depressed but otherwise healthy golden retriever put down “because he’s old.”
I remember when we lived in a trailer park for about a year, some of our neighbors treated their animals very badly. I don’t know if it was just ignorance (most of the people living in the trailer park were not too well educated) or if we had a surplus of psychopaths living around us, but I remember one poor dog in particular. In fact, this dog was a black lab/Doxie mix who was the sister of my dog, Dexter (who we acquired from a family who lived in another trailer in that park).
Rain or shine, snow or sleet, or on the hottest days of summer, that poor dog was left outside attached to a clanking metal chain in the driveway. The few times I saw anyone interacting with that dog was when the owner, a raging drunk whose wife had called the police on a number of occasions for abusing her, would kick the dog or yell at him. I would have called the police, but was afraid of the repercussions, and also the dog had become so aggressive I knew no one would adopt her and she would have been put down. Maybe that would have been the best thing for her though, but I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time, being embroiled in my own mess with my own psychopath. I did try to interact with the poor dog occasionally, but she would just bare her teeth and growl. I would look at my Dexter, with his sweet, affectionate personality, and think of what his poor sister could have been had she been cared for by loving owners. I have no doubt that owner was a psychopath. Anyone acting that cruel toward his pet is someone without much or any empathy. A person who just dislikes animals would not have a pet at all, not keep one around just to abuse it. The owner probably kept the dog for “protection.” Why else have one?
In fact, you see that a lot. There are many people who keep a dog, usually an “aggressive” breed such as a Rottweiler or Pitt Bull, as a method of security. No one will try to break into a house or trespass if there is a barking, aggressive dog present. People who keep dogs as a form of security aren’t necessarily psychopathic though. A normal person who keeps a dog for such a reason will still play with the animal and be affectionate toward it when it’s not “on duty.” But if the animal is ignored, or left outside all the time, that’s a different story. Whenever you read or hear a heartbreaking story about a vulnerable animal being neglected or abused, you can bet it’s owner was a psychopath. In fact, pets, being helpless and trusting, often serve the same purpose as a child or vulnerable person: as a scapegoat.
There are other psychopaths who like to brag about how aggressive their dog is. The dog is an extension of themselves, and they take pride in training it to attack or act aggressively toward others, not as a form of security, but as a way to intimidate other people through their dog. Training a dog to be aggressive just to be aggressive is also a form of animal abuse.
Then there are those who, like my MN mother, keep a dog or other animal as a status symbol. They always choose a purebred animal, often a type that is trendy or expensive and makes them appear to be wealthy to others. My mother has a purebred Bichon Freze, a very cute dog, but it’s an extension of herself rather than a companion. She takes it in to a groomer monthly to have its nails done and puts bows on its head. I’m sure if this dog develops health problems, no matter how minor, she will have the dog put to sleep. Several years earlier, she had a purebred toy poodle, and when she got old, callously had her put to sleep, even though she had no health problems other than a little trouble walking due to arthritis. When I questioned her about why she took such drastic action, she just shrugged and told me she didn’t have the time to deal with an ailing animal. I don’t recall her even shedding a tear.
There are purebred animals that have been inbred so much they have health problems. I think anyone who breeds a dog or cat for a certain “look” at the expense of its health is lacking a conscience or empathy, at least toward animals. These people are breeding animals to have a deformity! Imagine breeding humans to have a condition such as Spina Bifida. How is it any different? Persian cats are a perfect example of a cat breed that has been bred to have a pushed in, flat (and in my opinion, ugly) face and as a result they have breathing and other health problems. Some dog and cat breeds, such as the “munchkin” cat or Bassett hound have serious spinal issues or have trouble walking due to their excessively short legs.
Some psychopaths use pets as a way to torment or control their children. They will purchase or acquire an animal for a child, and then if the child misbehaves, hold the threat “I’ll have Fido or Fluffy put to sleep if you do that again” over the kids’ heads. This is mental torture. My N-ex’s mother was a narcissist herself and used this tactic to manipulate him. When Michael was five, his father brought home a white puppy. He loved that dog and spent all his free time with him (he may not have been a narcissist yet, it’s hard to say). One day when he was five, he was coloring with crayons on the hardwood floor, sitting in a patch of sun that came in through the living room window. Buster, the puppy, was sitting next to him watching. There was also a pair of child’s plastic scissors on the floor. As children will do, he left to do something else without putting the crayons and scissors away. But before he came back, Michael’s mother discovered the crayons had melted all over the wooden floor. Surely she couldn’t have really thought the melted red and purple crayons were blood, but when Michael returned to coloring, she pointed to the waxy, melted mess and the scissors and accused him of “cutting the dog.” Buster did have a little red crayon on his fur but was not cut and wasn’t hurt in any way. To punish Michael, his mother announced she was having the puppy put to sleep, in order to “teach him a lesson.” And so she did. So psychopaths will use animals to manipulate, control and torment their children.
Some psychopaths and narcissists will acquire a pet to control other people. My ex, Michael (the grown up version of the little boy in the last paragraph) did this. Now he actually was an animal lover (and always said he preferred animals to people), but he also used them as a way to say “fuck off” to me. I’m an animal lover and have always had pets, but I remember when in 2011, he adopted a dog without asking me how I felt about it. At the time, I already had three cats and Dexter, my dog. The house I live in is small, and there wasn’t room for another dog. For several weeks he had been combing Craigslist looking at puppies. He wasn’t working and was basically freeloading while I paid all the bills. Not only was there not room for another dog, I couldn’t afford one. I begged him to not get any ideas. Michael assured me he was “just looking” and to stop worrying.
Well, lo and behold, one day I came home from work to find a puppy in his arms on the couch. I was angry and told him there was no way I could take care of another pet, and he would have to take it back. He said he wouldn’t. “Too bad, he’s here to stay,” he said.
The puppy was a Jack Russell/Beagle mix and the loudest, most undisciplined, and hyper dog I ever met. Michael refused to train him and a year later this dog was still pooping and peeing in the house. He also tore up everything, and I’d regularly come home from work to find the house in a shambles. Michael never bothered to pick up the mess. He’d just make excuses for his pet, whining “but he’s just a puppy!” even though the dog was a year old. If me or my daughter tried to discipline him, Michael accused us of being cruel. Talk about gaslighting!
The dog (who he named Barnaby) also barked constantly and ran away at least 3 times a week. We’d hear Barnaby barking and howling somewhere in the neighborhood but he wouldn’t return for hours, no matter how much we called him. He was a neighborhood nuisance, and three times neighbors called animal control. Still, Michael refused to discipline or train him. That job fell to me and my daughter, but of course we were “cruel” or “hated animals.”
The third time animal control showed up, I told them to please take the dog. I never wanted him in the first place, and I couldn’t control him. I didn’t want to pay a $75 fine to keep him, so away he went. I felt bad about the fact he would probably be put down, but there was nothing else I could do. Michael, of course, was livid, and said “I never realized how much you hated animals.” Of course only HIS needs mattered. He didn’t care that all the training and financial expense of the dog fell on me. He also didn’t care about Barnaby’s needs: he was wel aware that Jack Russells (and Beagles) are extremely active dogs that need to run. It’s in their genes. We were living in a small house with a tiny unfenced yard, and that’s not an appropriate setting for a dog like Barnaby. But like all narcissists, Michael was like a three year old: “I want a dog and I better have one and I don’t care what you think!” Now I love dogs, but in Barnaby’s case, I was never so happy to see the last of that animal. I hope someone with a large fenced yard and time to train him appropriately adopted him.
So yes, psychopaths do keep pets, but they are kept for all the wrong reasons–to control others, to serve as scapegoats or status symbols, to guard property, and generally to serve as extensions of the psychopath. And that’s about it. Psychopaths and narcissists have no genuine love for animals, just as they have none for other people.