Tag Archives: domestic violence

‘Trifles’ of Creature Comfort

A 1916 play Trifles was written by American journalist Susan Glaspell. It is a murder mystery based on a real event in Iowa at the turn of the century. A man is found Girl with a canary, 1765 painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuzestrangled. The sheriff and a neighbour man search the house and outbuildings, can’t find anything. Their wives are there too. They are friends of the widow, who is also prime suspect. The women look around the areas that the men consider unimportant – the kitchen and sitting room where only women’s  ‘trifles’ are kept.

In the widow’s sewing basket, they find a dead canary wrapped in a scrap of silk inside a fancy small box. Its neck had been wrung, strangled. Knowing the late husband had been a hard man who ruled his wife with an iron fist, they figure out what happened. They keep it to themselves.

The play is described as being about domestic violence and the subjugation of women. The clue is the dead canary. It is seen as symbolic of the husband killing his wife’s joy in singing, something she’d hoped for as a career or hobby when a young woman.

But an essays-for-sale site showed a paper that I think strikes an essential point about the canary. The little bird was her pet, her small bit of warmth in a cold household. In strangling the bird, her husband took away her friend and her comfort.

Pets and domestic violence

I learned about Trifles while searching for information on domestic violence after listening to a CBC Radio Living Out Loud documentary in May 2011. It was about AnimEscale (AnimEscape in English), a shelter run by a Quebec woman Nicole Messier. A former victim of spousal abuse, she and her new husband turned their home into a shelter for the animal victims of domestic violence. Sadly, Ms. Messier passed away in 2013. What she did should be emulated by women’s shelters everywhere.

Nicole Messier said she had stayed in her abusive situation longer than she would have if it had been just herself. She wouldn’t leave her dog and cat, and she couldn’t take them to the women’s shelter. She learned she wasn’t the only woman doing that. Seventy percent of women, she said, will not leave their abusive households if they can’t take their animals with them.

Domestic Violence PETA posterMs. Messier worked with local women’s shelters to provide refuge for the pets. Women and children stayed in the women’s shelter, pets stayed in Nicole’s home. Dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, rabbits, goldfish – they were all welcome. For large animals like horses, she had farms who would board them.

While in the shelters, the humans and animals spent time together regularly. Violence too often is passed on to children, so she would be there to see how the animals acted towards the kids and vice versa. Animals can become afraid of or aggressive toward people they associate with abuse – usually men – so Ms. Messier’s husband worked with the pets to show them that not all men need be feared.

These remarkable people kept families protected and intact. Leaving an abusive situation is good for women and children, but how can you leave your pets? If you do so, what are you telling your kids about responsibility? And, in the absence of the wife and kids, probably the abuser is going to turn his attention to the animal if he hasn’t already. Unless their animals also find shelter, women might not leave to protect themselves. Nicole helped fill that huge gap in domestic violence prevention measures.

This was published on my St. Thomas Dog Blog July 15, 2011. I emailed Nicole and received a lovely reply with more information about her “mission”. It is under my name in ‘Comments’, July 19, 2011. Mission AnimEscale is on Facebook.


Coronation Street Apr. 14/13


Kirsty-with-phoneTuesday, Kirsty’s face as Ruby cries upstairs. You know that this is the end of the storyline and the end of the road for Kirsty. The only question is what is she going to do. Is she going to end the cycle of familial physical violence or perpetuate it  Is she going to admit she was lying or start hitting the baby? She looks for help at Dr. Carter’s office. He won’t give her sleeping pills. She won’t consider a therapist. She goes home. Ruby sleeps, until Julie comes to confront Kirsty. The baby begins crying again.

She carries Ruby down from upstairs, cooing at her to try to comfort her.  But her sh-sh-sh sounds become words: “shut up shut up” still said in a soothing voice. Her patience is at the snapping screams-at-babypoint. And indeed, she snaps. The murmured “shut up” becomes a loud scream right in the baby’s face: SHUT UP.

She stops herself, horrified at what she’s done. Then picks up the baby in her carrier. Where is she going? Next door to beg Julie to take the baby? No, she doesn’t knock at Eileen’s door where inside Julie is crying on Sean’s shoulder after Kirsty hit her hard. (Why they didn’t try to rescue Ruby, I don’t know.) They hear the baby cry, then sudden silence. I fear Kirsty will head to the Canal, where so many Weatherfield evil-doers end the stories of themselves and their victims.

in-courtroomMy guesses are wrong. Next episode she goes to the courtroom, baby in arms, and asks that Tyrone take the child. It was she, Kirsty says, who battered Tyrone and she feared she would do the same to Ruby. After some strange and convoluted judicial outrage about decorum, they charge her with perjury and obstruction of justice. They also release Tyrone and return Ruby to him. As Kirsty is taken to the cells, through a window she sees Tyrone walking down the street, carrying the baby with Fiz hanging off his arm. My heart broke for Kirsty.

All the actors in this story have been brilliant, but Natalie Gumede has been stunning. She has illustrated all sides of the cycle of domestic abuse. She has recollected the young girl, terrified of Kirsty-horrifiedher father and frightened for her mother’s safety. She’s shown us the young girl confused and let down by her mother’s unwillingness to protect herself and her child. She has also shown us a vicious abuser, able to hit someone she loves with anything that comes to hand and make him feel it is his fault that she is “forced” to do this.  Then she has shown the regret and horror that an abuser feels after their loss of control and the nightmare that she has become exactly the same as the person she feared and hated.

But she stopped the cycle, early enough that probably it will not affect Ruby in later life. I thought it would be her mother who stopped it, who said I can’t let another generation of abuse exist. But by not telling the court what she knew, her mother was continuing the cycle of abuse and convicting an innocent man. She was allowing her own victimization to destroy more lives, and calling it protecting her child. stupid-stupid

But two wrongs don’t make a right. Kirsty put more on the line than she had ever asked of her mother. She declared herself an abuser and put herself behind bars in order to save her child. All she had asked of her mother was for her to leave an abusive husband and father. I think her mother has as much self-examination to do as Kirsty has.