Whether or not a cat caretaker feels guilty if and when their cat is abused largely depends upon whether their cat has been abused by someone with whom they are intimate or not.
When an animal is abused by a person with whom the animal’s owner is not intimate they can be described as “remote cases”. Conversely, if the abuse is meted out by a person with whom the cat’s owner is intimate, such as a partner, then these cases can be described as “intimate cases”.
In a study, in almost all so-called remote cases, grief arising out of the abuse of a companion animal was not compounded by a feeling of guilt. This is even in cases where cat owners put their companion animal at some risk by, for example, allowing their cat to roam outside unsupervised. Logically, this would imply that the cat owner is in part culpable – partly to blame for any abuse that might take place. However, despite this obvious observation, cat and dog owners felt that they could not have anticipated the abuse. This resulted in a lack of guilt.
The presence or otherwise of guilt is completely different in intimate cases. Many companion animal owners in intimate cases admitted feeling guilty. They did so because they did not prevent the abuse and because they felt that the abuse was really aimed at them.
As one woman stated in the study:
“I wish I had done something before he did it – like leaving.”
Another woman reported:
“It just made me sick. You know, I went and looked and there was blood on the place that my cat always slept. And all I could imagine was this poor trusting creature being slammed into the wall. It just made me…like how could I let that happen to my animals?”
The researchers in the study state that the sense of guilt was compounded on occasions by the woman believing that their companion animal was abused because of them. In other words, the woman believed that their partner was not angry at their cat or dog but with them. It just happened that the animal was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was a convenient target against which the anger could be expressed.
As another female participant in the study stated:
“He was just going off at me in general and she [dog] was sitting here and, you know, she just got it. Just because she was sitting there.”
Another woman said something similar:
“John was my batterer. One day we got into a real, real big argument, and like the cat was right there on the couch. He just like picked it up and threw it against the wall.”
Some women felt that their partner’s abuse of their cat/dog was a way of getting at them. For example, one man gave away the woman’s dog without her consent and then told her that the dog had been lost. The woman stated:
“He was using the dog to get at me, which he really achieved when he gave the dog away. He knew how much I loved him [the dog].”
Accordingly, we can conclude that the guilty feelings were felt because they had failed to prevent the abuse of their companion animal. These guilty feelings occurred despite the fact that the women concerned had tried to protect their animals more than they tried to protect themselves.
For instance, one woman stated that she would yell at her partner to stop his abuse of her companion animal but when he abused her she would not normally yell at him. She cared more for her animal companion than for herself. However, when she yelled at him for his abuse of her companion animal he would then direct his aggression and abuse towards her.
One woman used to hold her companion animal in her arms to protect her from her partner’s blows and another woman said that she always took her companion animal with her whenever she left the home to prevent her partner being alone with the animal. Despite this she stayed with her partner.
Sometimes the guilt of the cat or dog owner was intensified when they were blamed by others for letting the abuse happen.
One cat/dog owner stated:
“Well, one friend said to me ‘it was your fault, you let him into your house'”.
In response the companion animal owner said:
“You are not a friend if you can say that to me.” She was furious and she wanted to kill her former friend. She felt that she was a victim and not the culprit.
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Source for the article: Companion Animals & Us TIP – 1300O5ULISMEHD by Podberscek, Paul and Serpell