Animal cruelty is not only abhorrent in its own right, but it is often a gateway crime to 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 to whomever is responsible for cruelty investigations in your community.
In most cases you may do so anonymously if you fear reprisal. Doing nothing does nothing to help animals in need.
DO NOT ask us in the comments section what to do if you suspect cruelty or abuse. Contact your local police department and/or humane society even if you are unsure if what you observe qualifies as animal cruelty since laws vary by state and municipality. PLEASE STOP ASKING US WHAT TO DO; TAKE LEGAL ACTION!
The 11 signs of animal abuse, neglect or cruelty
1 – Poor body condition and noticeable trauma
The animal has severe matting and a filthy coat, open sores or obvious wounds. He appears to be flea or tick infested. He is underweight with bones visible clearly. He might be limping or unable to walk at all, or have congested eyes or ears. He is in obvious physical distress and in need of veterinary care.
2 – Lack of food or water
Every time you see this animal you notice that she has no obvious sources of food and/or water. She may be aggressive due to starvation and thirst, and perhaps very lethargic.
3 – Lack of shelter
The animal is contained in an area that is largely or fully exposed to inclement weather or constant sun. In many states, if an animal dies as a result of being left alone in a hot car the owner can be charged. See the laws in your state.
4 – Lack of sanitation
Feces and/or debris cover the animal’s living area.
5 – Abandoned
The animal is left in a house, yard, or other area that appears empty or devoid of normal human activity. Reports of companion animals abandoned and left to die inside vacant buildings are alarmingly common.
It is 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 animal live, be extra vigilant. Some dogs bark and whine to express anxiety at being left alone. But a dog who is howling or barking for several hours is sending a signal that it is in need of immediate, life-saving care.
6 – The animal is tied or caged
She has little or no room to move, and/or is unable to stand or turn.
7 – Chains or padlocks around the animal’s neck
Be on the lookout for anything around an animal’s neck that may have become embedded and/or infected, including regular collars. A chained animal is an abused animal.
Chaining or tethering is illegal in many states.
8 – Signs of an animal being trained to or having been used to fight
This is especially common with bully breed dogs, and even roosters. You may see training implements, treadmills, spring poles, etc. More likely you will notice obvious signs of trauma, including scars, open wounds, infections, and even missing body parts, such as ears or tails.
9 – The animal’s behavior is abnormal
She may be very aggressive or severely shy, e.g., cowering, hiding, fear-biting, even with or especially with her owner.
10 – Too many animals living on one property
This can be a sign of animal hoarding, which makes the conditions no less cruel. An estimated 250,000 animals are hoarding victims each year.
11 – Overt acts of violence
An owner or any person who is being overtly violent against the animal, striking or throwing objects at him, or otherwise physically abusing him.
There is no violence against an animal that is justified. And a person who would abuse an animal in public or plain sight is likely doing far worse outside of view.
The worst thing you can do if you witness or suspect animal cruelty or neglect is nothing. Be that animal’s voice and get him out of his abusive situation immediately. If you have to make multiple reports, do it.
Four steps to help an animal who is a cruelty victim
Animal cruelty is illegal in every state and a felony most. If you make a report of alleged animal cruelty the responding agency is required to investigate.
If you see an animal in distress, do not assume that someone else will take care of the situation. Animals cannot speak for themselves; it is up to you to speak for them.
1 – Be prepared
Most municipalities have a local animal control department, or animal shelter or humane society that is responsible for cruelty investigations.
Do an online search to identify the agency in your area and program the number into your mobile phone. This way you are always prepared to report abuse.
2 – Speak up or call 911
If you witness overt violence against an animal or suspect it, speak up! If you do not feel safe intervening in a situation directly, call 911.
It is essential to contact law enforcement when violence is involved since it is likely part of an ongoing pattern that may include violence against people as well. If you are traveling or in a community that is not familiar to you, you can look up the local police department.
3 – Document the details
Tell the officer as many details of the situation as you can: location, date, time, description of the people and animals involved.
Video and photographic documentation, even on a mobile phone, can bolster a legal case. Provide names of others who may have witnessed the incident. Remain on the scene until authorities arrive if you can do so safely.
4 – Prepare to testify
While you may remain anonymous, the legal case will be much stronger if you are willing to identify yourself and testify to what you witnessed. A human witness is crucial for building a strong, prosecutable case.
- Perspectives on animal cruelty from a former humane law enforcement officer
- How to stop animal cruelty
- State-by-state animal protection laws and rankings
- Table of state laws that protect animals left in parked vehicles
DO NOT ask in the comments section what to do if you suspect cruelty or abuse. Contact your local police department and/or humane society even if you are unsure if what you observe qualifies as animal cruelty since laws vary by state and municipality.