It’s hard to imagine that dogs and cats — our furry family members who provide us with so much joy — can fall victim to abuse and neglect. Yet the sad reality is it happens — in every state, every year. In fact, all U.S. states have animal cruelty laws to protect pets, and 49 states have laws that treat some forms of abuse as felonies.
Because our pets can’t speak up for themselves if they’re mistreated, it’s our responsibility — no matter whose pet — to speak for them if we suspect there’s a problem.
Signs and symptoms
Just because an animal is timid or aggressive, doesn’t mean it’s being abused, so says the ASPCA. But there are signs to look for that may indicate pet neglect or abuse, which include:
- Tick or flea infestations.
- An extremely thin, starving animal.
- A collar so tight it became embedded in the pet’s neck or created a wound.
- Wounds on other areas of the body.
- Patches of missing hair.
- An owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal.
- Dogs who are repeatedly left alone without food and water, and often chained in a yard.
- Dogs who have been hit by cars and not taken to a veterinarian.
- Dogs who are kept outside without any shelter or inadequate shelter in extreme weather conditions.
- Animals who cower in fear or act aggressively when approached by their owners.
- Pets who’ve been abandoned — owners moving and leaving the animals behind (which includes them howling or crying).
- Pets who are hoarded — someone keeping more animals than could possibly care for adequately.
Reporting the crime
Once you recognize the signs, it’s important to move quickly to help save the animal. Contact the animal welfare agency in your community. If you can’t find that number, call your local police department to report suspected animal abuse and the police should be able to help direct you to the right agency.
If possible, the ASPCA suggests having the following available once you speak to law enforcement:
- A detailed, written report of the approximate date, time, and location of abuse/neglect.
- Photographs (cell phone photos and videos work well) of the pet, the location and the surrounding environment, if possible. But be sure to play it extremely safe — do not enter another person’s property without permission. Pets may also be afraid and in pain, so use caution.
- Contact information from anyone else who has noticed the abuse/neglect.
And while you can remain anonymous when filing a report, which is better than not doing anything at all, consider disclosing your name and information to the agency taking the report because the likelihood of a successful prosecution greatly increases with a witness who is willing to testify.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, most cases never make it to trial but agreeing to give your testimony in court will only strengthen the case and hopefully, bring justice for the suffering animal. Plus, you’ll know you really did your part to help.