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Dear Miss SmartyPants,

I've been dating my boyfriend for a year - he's been everything I'd ever hoped for. I'm happier than I ever thought possible. So here's my problem: we were dog sitting for two weeks and I witnessed him doing some things I consider wrong. He isn't working right now, so he was home with the dog all day. Anyway, he's jumped out at the dog to scare it, fed it garlic just to see what it would do, yelled at it unfairly, etc. Red flags are going up. Is he just bored or immature? Or is this a problem?


Dear Concerned,

This guy's behavior is a huge problem. As total disregard for innocent life generally is. He may be bored or immature, but that's not the point. The bottom line: he is cruel.

It would have been prudent for you to find another caretaker for the dog until its owners returned. However, that ship has sailed. But know that there are serious problems indicated by a person mistreating an animal. At the heart of it, he apparently gets his kicks out of mistreatment of the innocent. Which is why I said it's a huge problem.

I believe one can learn a lot from a person from how he or she treats animals. A person may be sharp, enthusiastic, dynamic, but if they are cruel toward an innocent, be the innocent a dog or a human, that person has a problem, as do all innocents in their path. One should never trust an abuser.

So please rethink your "happiness" with this guy. Sorry, but I do not believe he is "everything you should hope for". You now know that he is amused by mistreating animals, and you should consider the possibility that in the future he may be amused by abusing you. And, personally, I don't think that would be worse than abusing pets. Cognizant abuse is abuse, to a pet, a wife, or a child. Your red flags are flying for good reason, and you are wise to give heed.

I hope you do not think I am being overly dramatic in my judgment of this man's behavior. One may rightly think abuse is beating, or starving, or not providing adequate shelter. But I believe abuse is also tormenting, or intimidation, or the threat of physical harm to an animal or any innocent, such as a child. There need not be physical signs of abuse for abuse to have occurred.

My Dear Concerned, I am sorry this dog had to endure this treatment, but hope that after it got back to its owners, it received all the love and care any living creature deserves. It probably was not permanently hurt by its treatment while in the custody of your boyfriend. I sincerely hope not. If the dog is consistently loved at home, he'll no doubt be fine, and your boyfriend's ill treatment will be forgotten, as any bad episode should be.

But you. Do not take this lightly. I want you to have a realistic view of what your future may be like with this man. Would you want kids with him? (Scaring them, feeding them garlic for fun, yelling at them for no reason?)

A somewhat related addendum: I think the way people treat those in service jobs is also telling - waiters, receptionists, anyone who isn't in a position to fight back. That's when the real bullies come out.

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