Many times, people witness animal abuse or neglect and ignore it, feeling like it’s none of their business, or that they shouldn’t get involved with what someone does with their pet. But reporting cases of animal cruelty is the right thing to do, (and you can remain anonymous). Animal cruelty is not only wrong—it is against the law. All U.S. states have animal cruelty laws, and 47 states treat some forms of abuse as felonies. The ASPCA reports that without phone calls from concerned citizens reporting cruelty in their neighborhoods, they wouldn’t know about most instances of animal abuse, and animals would stay in dangerous and hurtful circumstances, unable to tell anyone, and unable to defend themselves. Animals are dependant upon concerned citizens who recognize the abuse to get them the help they need.
THE FIRST STEP is to recognize and identify cruelty. Remember, an animal doesn’t have to be hit to be a cruelty case. Depriving an animal of food, water, adequate shelter or necessary medical care is neglect, which is a form of cruelty.
There are two categories of animal neglect: simple neglect and gross, willful, cruel or malicious neglect. Simple neglect is failure to provide basic needs, such as food, water, medical care and shelter. It is not always considered a criminal act, and can often be resolved by the intervention of local animal care and control or humane agencies. However, some states make a distinction between simply failing to take adequate care of animals and intentionally or knowingly withholding food, water and medical care. Accordingly, “willful” neglect is considered a more serious, often prosecutable offense.
Consider the animal’s physical condition. Does he have a flea and tick infestation, open wounds – or signs of multiple healed wounds, patches of missing hair or injuries causing limping? Does he appear too thin? Is his collar so tight that it has caused a neck wound or has it become embedded in the pet’s neck? Is the animal horribly matted? Are nails overgrown? Does the animal have heavy discharge from the nose or eyes? Is the animal visibly confused or extra drowsy?
Does the animal have adequate shelter available? Is the area kept clean of feces? Are there food and water bowls? Are the bowls empty or turned upside down? If the bowls are empty check back several times over the next couple of days at different times of the day to see if the bowls remain empty or ever get re-filled.
In cases where you suspect neglect, talk to the animal’s owner if you feel comfortable doing so. Remember that you always catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Don’t accuse, just get the facts. If an animal looks starved, you might find out it has just been rescued. If it has open sores, you might find out it is receiving medical attention. You might also find that the people lack the resources to provide the best care to their animal, and need financial assistance.
If you are witness to a person actively beating or torturing an animal, intervene! Step in to help the animal, as long as you feel safe doing so. Animal torture is illegal, so you have the right to stop it.
THE SECOND STEP: is to document the abuse and neglect. Include dates, times and the nature of the problem, even if you just suspect abuse or neglect. Photographs and videotape are helpful, though not necessary.
Try to gather the following information before submitting a report of animal cruelty:
- A concise, written, factual statement of what you observed—giving dates and approximate times whenever possible—to provide to law enforcement.
- Photographs of the location, the animals in question and the surrounding area. But don’t put yourself in danger! Never enter another person’s property without permission, and be cautious around unfamiliar animals who may be frightened or in pain.
- If you can, provide law enforcement with the names and contact information of other people who have firsthand information about the abusive situation.
THE THIRD STEP is to report the abuse to the proper authorities. Most cases of animal abuse or neglect can be reported to your local animal control. You will find their phone number in the government listing of your phone book. After you provide details, ask for the animal control officer’s name and ask what action will be taken.
The police department that covers your city, town or county is required to investigate criminal complaints, including complaints of animal cruelty and animal fighting. Animal torture or animal fighting should be reported to the police department, as these are crimes. Call 911 if the fighting or torture is in progress. If you are reporting a dog fight, after you call your local police department, call the dogfight hotline at: (1-877-847-4787) You can receive an award up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a dogfighter. All information is kept confidential. The line is answered 24/7. There may also be an animal control agency, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) or humane society that has authority to conduct investigations of cruelty.
To find contact information for your local shelter, check the yellow pages or visit the ASPCA’s searchable shelter database of nearly 5,000 community SPCAs, humane societies and animal control organizations. To find out if there is an agency other than the police authorized to conduct cruelty investigations in your area, visit the ASPCA’s state-by-state list of anti-cruelty investigatory-arrest powers
Always keep a record of everyone you contact (official or otherwise), the dates of the contacts, and the content and outcome of your discussions. Never pass on a letter, photograph, or any documentation without first creating a copy for your file. Make it clear to authorities that you wish to pursue this case and are willing to lend your assistance if necessary, and be sure to follow up! If you stay involved, they’re more likely to do the same.
Helpinganimals.com reports that persistence has saved countless animals from abusive people. If you are unable to get satisfaction from law-enforcement officers, they suggest you go straight to supervisors. If necessary, appeal to local government officials, such as the mayor, prosecutor, city council members, or county commissioners. A simple call to the media (TV and print) in your area can move mountains. News coverage often forces officials to act and can also scare the abuser into stopping the cruel behavior. News coverage may also inspire viewers who have seen similar acts to step forward and share their own accounts
Please, get involved! Research shows that people who abuse animals are very likely to be violent to other people.
For concerns about animal cruelty in PET STORES, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can contact its headquarters at (301) 734-7833, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The USDA will direct you to the appropriate regional department to which you will be asked to submit your complaint in writing.
For concerns about an ANIMAL BREEDER, please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can contact its headquarters at (301) 734-7833, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/, or send an email to email@example.com. The USDA will direct you to the appropriate regional department to which you will be asked to submit your complaint in writing.
To report WEBSITES that display acts of cruelty to animals, you should first contact the website host or sponsor. Major providers of Internet service, such as AOL and Google, have Terms of Service agreements that restrict depiction of objectionable material.
The next step is to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. Learn more about what’s being done about online cruelty.
Resources: eHow, ASPCA, HSUS, Helpinganimals