You don’t hit a dog, you pet a dog

I’ve written before about the autistic boy who I’ve loved and taken care of for years. I should stop calling him a boy because he’ll turn twenty this year. I’ll pretend his name is George.

He has — or had — sociopathic tendencies. His father has told me that he himself is a diagnosed sociopath, and he suspects the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

I’ve only gotten very mad at George once. He was pulling his dog’s ears for fun, giggling with delight, and wouldn’t stop. The dog was squealing with pain. George did this frequently. At other times he petted the dog and lavished love on him — that’s why the dog was willing to take a chance and go near George — but at this moment, George was being cruel. I told George to stop and he said, “Why? It’s fun.” I tried to get him to understand that the dog has feelings too. This conversation had taken place many times before.

“It’s fun,” he repeated, laughing joyously.

“It’s fun to you, not to the dog,” I said, but these words had no effect.

It occurs to me now that the words had no effect because George already knew perfectly well that he and the dog each had his own feelings. He knew the dog was in pain. That was the whole point. That’s what made it fun.

George kept pulling and laughing with glee and the dog kept crying. We had been through this often but this time, for some reason, probably because he was enjoying it so much, I lost my temper. This is the only time I’ve ever yelled at him. I said, “You have to decide what kind of person you’re going to grow up to be. If you keep this up, you’ll be a sociopath. You’re acting like a sociopath. Is that what you want? You have to stop now. You have to stop hurting the dog.” I screamed the last two sentences. I was shocked that I called him a sociopath. He was about 15 at the time and seemed much younger. He was very quiet. He took it in. I regretted that outburst for a long time and I think he always remembered it.

Another bad trait of his is that he usually talks to his 4-year-old nephew in a snarling, commanding tone of voice. He does this because his parents talk this way to him. He’s only imitating them. He talks to me in a gentler voice because that’s how I talk to him.

Yesterday I was on the phone with him. He was babysitting his nephew. Suddenly, to my amazement, I heard him say, “Malcom, don’t hurt the dog. Malcom, hurting animals is a bad thing.”

Malcom said, “Why?”

George said, “Because it’s like hurting somebody else. I don’t want to see you hurting the dog again. Okay? Thank you.”

Malcom didn’t stop right away.

George said, “You don’t hit a dog. You pet a dog. Here’s how you pet a dog. Like this.”

George’s voice was kind and gentle. The whole thing was amazing, but the fact that he said “thank you” was most amazing.

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