Animal cruelty is not only abhorrent in its own right, but is often tied to other offenses, including violence against adults and children.
If you witness any act of abuse, neglect or cruelty against an animal it is your moral responsibility to report it to local law enforcement, or whomever is responsible for cruelty investigations in your community. In most cases you may do so anonymously if you fear reprisal.
Doing nothing never helps.
The 11 signs of animal abuse, neglect or cruelty
- Poor body condition and noticeable trauma: The animal has severe matting and a filthy coat, open sores or obvious wounds. It appears to be flea or tick infested. It’s underweight with bones clearly visible. It might be limping or unable to walk at all, or have congested eyes or ears. It is in obvious physical distress and in need of veterinary care.
- Lack of food or water: Every time you see this animal, you notice that it has no obvious sources of food and/or water. It may be aggressive due to starvation and thirst, and perhaps very lethargic.
- Lack of shelter: The animal is contained in an area fully exposed to inclement weather or constant sun.
- Lack of sanitation: Feces and/or debris cover the animal’s living area.
- Abandoned: The animal is left in a house or yard that appears empty. Reports of companion animals abandoned and left to die inside vacant buildings or apartment units are alarmingly common, and it’s a crime in all 50 states to abandon an animal. If you notice a neighbor has moved or has stopped visiting a residence where you know animals live, be extra vigilant. Some dogs bark and whine to express their anxiety when they’re left alone, but a dog that is howling or barking for several hours is sending a clear signal that it is in need of immediate, life-saving care.
- The animal is tied or caged: It has little room to move, and/or is unable to stand or turn.
- There are chains or padlocks around or embedded into the animal’s neck: This includes regular collars, too. A chained animal is an abused animal.
- The animal shows evidence of being trained for or having been used to fight: This is especially common with Pit Bull Terriers and even roosters. You may see training implements, treadmills, spring poles, etc. More likely, you’ll notice obvious signs of trauma, such as scars, open wounds, infections or even missing body parts, such as ears or partial tails.
- The animal’s behavior is far from normal: It may be very aggressive or severely shy (e.g., cowering, hiding, fear-biting), even with or especially with its owner.
- There are too many animals living on one property: This can be a sign of animal hoarding.
- An owner being overtly violent against the animal, striking or otherwise physically abusing it.
The worst thing you can do if you witness or suspect animal cruelty or neglect is nothing. Be that animal’s voice and get it out of its abusive situation immediately. If you have to make multiple reports, do it.
Four steps help an abused animal
Animal cruelty is illegal in every state and a felony in 48 with the recent passage of the first felony animal cruelty law in Idaho. If you make a report of alleged animal cruelty the responding agency is required to investigate.
If you see an animal in distress, don’t assume that someone else will take care of the situation. Animals can’t speak for themselves; it’s up to you to speak for them.
- Be prepared: Most large municipalities have a local animal control department, or an animal shelter or humane society responsible for cruelty investigations. Do an online search to identify the agency in your area, and program the number into your mobile phone so you are prepared to report abuse.
- Speak up or call 911: If you witness overt violence against an animal or suspect it, speak up! If you don’t feel comfortable intervening in a situation directly, call 911 or your local animal welfare organization immediately (see step #1). It’s essential to call law enforcement when violence is involved, since it is likely part of an ongoing pattern that may include abuse against against people as well. If you’re traveling or living in a more rural area or community without an animal control agency, call 911 or the local police department.
- Document the details: Tell the officer as many details of the situation as you can: the location, date, time and descriptions of the people and animals involved. Video and photographic documentation – even a mobile phone photo – can help bolster the case. Provide names of others who may have witnessed the incident. Remain on the scene until authorities arrive, if you can do so safely.
- Prepare to testify: While you may remain anonymous, the case will be much stronger if you’re willing to identify yourself and testify to what you witnessed. A human witness is crucial for building a strong, prosecutable case.