My wife's dogs killed my dogs

She has no clue how devastating this was. I'm stuck with her in Brazil. How can I get out?

Published January 9, 2012 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

My wife's dog killed my dogs.

We had two beautiful mini-dachshunds, a mom and her son, whom I adored for years as family pets.

My wife within the last few years has become obsessed with a different breed, the Fila Brasileiro. These are big, mean, aggressive dogs, usually bred for guard and attack in Brazil.

She is a Brazilian citizen. I am an American living in Brazil.

We originally lived in New York, then in Los Angeles, but in 2007 she lost her job and pushed me into selling our home in Hollywood, taking our life savings and buying a farm in Brazil.

I was ambivalent about it, but she has a dominating personality and I gave in and took the plunge, probably the worst decision of my life. A year earlier I had paid for her to visit Brazil to meet her just-born granddaughter. She wrote me that she had an opportunity to purchase one of these fila dogs and bring it back. I told her it was a bad idea and didn't want it, but she waved me off and went ahead anyway and brought it back.

The thing was big and ugly and immediately attacked our female doxie. She acted as though it never happened. So we moved to Brazil and immediately she started bringing home more of these dogs, much to my disapproval. She came to think of herself as some kind of expert on the breed, hosting blogs and Facebook pages on them. The doxies became "my dogs" and the filas her dogs.

One day I was away from the house and I heard her scream. I rushed back to see the mom bleeding on the ground with a hole in her side. Her big dog did it while my wife froze up and stood there. I rushed her to a vet hospital where she died the next day. I was shattered.

This was two years ago. Since then I've protected Tex, the remaining doxie, in fear it might happen again. Last year one of her dog friends offered her another fila pup. Again I was against any more dogs, again she waved me off. As soon as the dog arrived it attacked Tex. I told her to get rid of it, she said she'd make sure they never crossed paths and kept it around. Last week, two days before Christmas, I heard the same scream from the past. Same situation: she standing there frozen while the two dogs tore poor Tex to pieces. I pushed her aside and jumped into the middle of the fray, badly wrenching my back, pulling her mutts off him. Again I rushed him bleeding and broken to the hospital; deja vu, he died that night.

Brazil has been a four-year-long unending nightmare for me. I went broke living there and lost my career; the place killed my marriage and eventually my two dogs. I'm thinking my wife is crazy. The day I buried Tex she was cuddling the two dogs and kissing them in front of me.

I have no money to leave her or this place. To me it's a prison. It's in a remote area similar to Appalachia in the U.S. I speak little Portuguese and she doesn't bother to teach me any, so I'm isolated from people here. I call the place Grey Gardens because it's rundown and falling apart. She refuses to sell the place because it's a home for her dogs. In fact, as I said, she's obsessed with these animals. They run our lives. Tex was my small comfort, besides her granddaughter, whom we ended up raising because her son is a bum and her mother is a drunk. Without Tex I feel lost and alone. A year or so earlier I had contemplated suicide but that's over. I intend to move on, but how do I handle this situation? Her dogs growl at me and I'm afraid of them now.

What is your read on this?

Down in the Well

Dear Down in the Well,

My read on this is that you are in an abusive relationship and need to get out. I think you ought to simply leave. There may be time later to sort out your relationship and how the property and money are to be handled, but I really feel that now it is time for you to leave.

Get a plane ticket and go.

If you have no money, borrow some. You must have people in New York and Los Angeles from whom you could borrow the cost of a plane ticket, and with whom you can stay for a few weeks while you sort things out and get back on your feet. If you feel alone, then make a list of all the people you know in the U.S. and begin contacting them. Someone will help you. When you tell your wife you are leaving, she may resist. She may try to talk you out of it. You might consider leaving without telling her. That might be your best bet.

You may have to calm yourself in order to take the steps necessary in order to get out. If so, begin meditating. Begin making lists. Making lists is a good way to structure future actions if you are in anxiety. Take note of what happens when you have the thought of buying a plane ticket. If need be, outline the steps you need to take; write them down, like a script, and then follow the script.

The bottom line is: Just get out. Come back to New York or Los Angeles and start over.

Now, about the dogs. It's possible that you yourself may be in danger from these dogs. On the other hand, it is impossible to say. As you may well know, dogs of that breed were widely believed in 2007 to have mauled to death 40-year-old Jacob Adams, an employee of actor Ving Rhames who was living at his place in Los Angeles. It may have happened while you were still living there or shortly after you left.

The coroner's report exonerating the dogs and stating that Adams died "due to a preexisting condition called intravascular sickling" did not come out until January 2008.

But let's put aside the question of whether you are in danger from the dogs.

What's important is that your wife has been cruel to you and does not seem to know or care that she has been cruel to you. She has been unrelenting in pushing for what she wants, heedless of your objections and now has brought you to a ruinous place.

You followed her to this ruinous place, of course, and after you are out you will want to examine your life and understand how you came under her spell and see how you can change.  But first you will have to extricate yourself.

I hope you do. I hope you extricate yourself and, once back in the United States, find a competent therapist to help you deal with the trauma and understand how to avoid such situations in the future.

By Cary Tennis

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