Because animals cannot speak for themselves, it's up to YOU to speak for them and report animal abuse that you witness or suspect.
If you want to help animals in your community, familiarize yourself with your state's laws, recognize the signs of abuse and be willing to report it.
How to report animal cruelty
Animal cruelty is illegal in every state (and a felony in 46). If you make a report of alleged animal cruelty, the responding agency is required to investigate.
Make the call: Most large municipalities have a local animal control department, animal shelter or humane society. Do an online search to identify the agency in your area, and program the number into your cell phone so you are prepared.
If you're traveling or living in a more rural area or community without an animal control agency, call the local police department (dial 911 to be most quickly connected) to report suspected animal abuse.
Document the details: When you make the call, tell the officer as many details of the situation as you can—i.e., the location, date and time, and descriptions of the people and animals involved. Video and photographic documentation (even a cell phone photo) can help bolster your case. It's also useful to give names of others who may have witnessed the incident.
Prepare to testify: While you may remain anonymous, the case will be much stronger if you are willing to identify yourself and testify to what you witnessed. Since animals cannot talk, a human witness is crucial for building a strong, prosecutable case.
If your community doesn't have an animal control agency and your local police seem unresponsive to animal cruelty concerns, there are steps you can take to get an animal welfare agency established in your town. Read about the issue here.
How to Recognize Cruelty
While direct violence is the most obvious form of animal cruelty, animal neglect is by far the most common type of abuse to which animal control officers respond.
Signs of neglect:
A shocking number of animals die from neglect every year, right under the noses of the entire community. If you see an animal in distress don't assume that someone else will take care of the situation; take action! Pay particular attention to:
- Chained dogs are most likely to die from starvation, dehydration or hypothermia, since their confinement renders them especially vulnerable and helpless.
- Animals without shelter in extreme heat or cold.
- Clearly emaciated animals: clearly visible bones and lethargy can be a sign of an untreated, life-threatening medical condition or imminent starvation.
- Obvious, untreated wounds or other medical conditions: animals who are limping or otherwise demonstrating distress, and animals with multiple patches of missing fur and open sores need treatment.
- Too many animals living on one property. This can be a sign of animal hoarding.
- Dogs or cats inside abandoned homes. Reports of companion animals abandoned and left to die inside vacant buildings or apartment units are startlingly common. If you notice a neighbor has moved or has stopped coming around to a residence where you animals live, be extra vigilant.
- Some dogs bark and whine to express their anxiety when they are left alone, but a dog who is howling or barking for more than a day sending out a clear signal that he's not being attended to. He may be injured or he may be abandoned. Try to find out if someone is at the residence, and if not, ask the authorities to investigate. If the neglect is ongoing or prolonged, it's often helpful to document it. You'll be better able to make your case and persuade authorities to take action if you if you've been able to take daily notes and photographs of the situation.
No reasonable, conscientious person would ignore a child being beaten, hit or kicked. Neither should anyone turn a blind eye to animal abuse!
If you witness overt violence against an animal or suspect it, speak up! If you don't feel comfortable directly intervening in a situation, quickly call the authorities. (If you don't have the appropriate number in your cell phone, dial 911.)
Knowing that s/he is being watched might startle the abuser into stopping the immediate act of violence, but ultimately, most cases are best left to law enforcement. It is especially important to involve law enforcement when violence is involved because the abuse is likely to be part of an ongoing pattern of violence that may include both animals and people. Don't delay; time is of the essence!
How are complaints investigated?
An officer will look into the complaint to see if animal cruelty laws have been violated. Some agencies have the power to obtain and serve warrants; other agencies work closely with local police who execute the search warrant on their behalf.
If a violation has occurred, the officer may speak with the owner and issue a citation and give the owner a chance to correct the violation. This is more likely in cases of animal neglect.
In other cases, animal neglect or abuse may be extreme and require the animals to be removed by a humane agency to protect them. The agency will present the case to the prosecutor's office for further evaluation and possible prosecution.
What role does The HSUS play in local animal abuse and neglect cases?
The Humane Society of the United States works with the public on individual cases of animal cruelty by providing rewards to citizens who provide information on animal cruelty and animal fighting leading to a conviction.
- We also act on tips provided by the public and continually assist in handling animals at the request of local authorities in large-scale cruelty cases. Some of the most frequent types of cases we work on involve animal hoarding and massive neglect cases, as well as investigations into institutionalized cruelty within the livestock industry. We not only assist in the handling and rehoming of animals but also in the subsequent prosecution of each case.
- The HSUS also provides assistance and resources to animal shelters, animal control professionals, investigators and prosecutors around the country on issues involving illegal animal cruelty and animal fighting. We provide educational materials, training opportunities, recommended operations guidelines and other expertise.
- We also lobby at state and national levels to strengthen laws protecting animals, increasing the likelihood that animal cruelty will be taken seriously by the legal system. For more information on animal abuse and what you can do to strengthen animal cruelty laws in your state, please visit The HSUS' End Animal Cruelty Campaign.