Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Justice for the pup: My husband recently came home with a story that horrified me, and now I don’t know what to do. His grandmother had a dog for several years. I’m typically not a dog person, but I always looked forward to the dog greeting us in the driveway and getting to spend time with her. Unfortunately, after my husband’s grandfather had a stroke, the grandmother was not able to take care of the dog as well, having to take care of her incapacitated, elderly husband while also being elderly and having her own share of health issues.
Eventually, I didn’t see the dog anymore and was told the grandmother gave it away. That was about eight years ago, but my husband found out at a recent Easter party what really happened. Apparently, his cousin told their grandmother that he had a friend who would take the dog. She was so happy to find her beloved dog a good home, and gathered all her toys, leash, and food, and sent her off to a new start. What really happened was my husband’s cousin took the dog to his friend’s house, set it loose, and they used it for target practice. The dog did not die quickly.
I’m devastated and horrified. What kind of person does this? I’ve been asked by my husband and father-in-law not say anything to anyone else. They said that if the grandmother knew what happened to her dog, she’d be so upset and she’d probably write the cousin out of her will (she is very wealthy), and she already has enough on her plate. What am I supposed to do with this? It’s giving me anxiety, and I think his grandmother SHOULD know. She should know that this cousin is a monster (that’s how I see it). Can I call the police? Should I confront his cousin? I feel like I can’t just let this go.
A: This is unbelievably horrifying, and I can’t imagine what a shock it was to learn a member of your extended family would do something like this. While I could potentially understand your husband not wanting to tell his grandmother if she were on her deathbed and solely out of concern for her well-being, the fact that he wants you to keep this a secret so that she doesn’t write the man who tortured and murdered her dog out of his will is, once again, completely horrifying. I would question my partner’s character if they said to me, “Yeah, Cousin Eddie and his friends hunted his grandmother’s beloved dog for sport while pretending to give it a loving home, but you can’t tell her, because then he might not be rich after she dies.” That’s absolutely despicable, and he should be profoundly ashamed of himself. If he isn’t, I think it’s worth getting in a pretty big fight over and, at the very least, taking a few nights apart to reassess whether you two share the same values.
You should tell his grandmother as gently as you can, making it clear that you’re so sorry to have to be the one to tell her this. Then file a report with animal control and contact the police. I don’t think you should confront your husband’s cousin because frankly I’m worried about your safety if you do—the kind of man who’s willing to take potshots at a family pet because he’s bored might quickly become aggressive if you tried to challenge him. The rest of the family might very well rally round the abusive cousin, so be sure to have your own support system in place and take whatever precautions you consider necessary to stay safe (avoiding your husband’s family members, keeping your home locked, staying in a hotel temporarily, etc.).