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What to Do If You Think an Animal Is Being Abused

Layne has worked in shelter medicine for over six years and likes to share her advice with fellow animal guardians.

Do you think a dog or an animal is being abused? Here's how to report it.

Do you think a dog or an animal is being abused? Here's how to report it.

What to Do If You Think an Animal Is Being Abused (Dogs, Cats, Horses, etc.)

Animal abuse comes in many forms. It can result from hoarding situations from well-intentioned people, or it can result from a benign kind of neglect. Sometimes it can be the result of simple ignorance, and all that's needed is for the owner to be educated. On the other hand, certain cases of abuse are intentional and may result in a felony charge. In these cases, the animal would likely be removed from the situation.

Types of Abuse: Non-Accidental vs. Passive Abuse

In order to understand if the animal or dog you have noticed is being abused or neglected, let's define what this means. Non-accidental injury is intentional injury directed towards an animal. These are disturbing cases and may be linked to sociopathic behavior. Passive cruelty (acts of omission) includes things like not adjusting a collar on a growing animal, allowing a wound to worsen, parasite infestations, etc.

Facts: Many killers and sociopaths exhibit signs of animal cruelty from an early age. Sometimes people who are abused or have been abused themselves abuse animals. Oftentimes, if there is animal abuse in a household, the family members may also be suffering from abuse.

Learn how to recognize the signs of abuse or cruelty

Learn how to recognize the signs of abuse or cruelty

How to Report Animal Abuse

Consider reaching out to your local Humane Society, Animal Control, or nearest police department and be ready to provide documentation or evidence (listed below). Remember that animal abuse is not just limited to dogs and cats. Animal abuse can be directed toward horses, poultry, livestock, exotic animals, birds, wildlife, etc.

Document Everything

Sometimes you might want to gather evidence before you report the case to the proper agency or authorities. You might want to document:

  • Dates of the event
  • Times of the event
  • Visible details
  • Video or photos from security cams or a cell phone
Neglect, cruelty, and abuse need to be reported.

Neglect, cruelty, and abuse need to be reported.

How Do You Know If an Animal Is Being Neglected?

Neglect often results from failure to provide basic needs. This includes things like basic shelter from the cold or from heat, adequate and regular food and water, proper veterinary care for an abscess, wound, injury, or chronic disease. Keeping a dog tied up or abandoning them. In summary, failure to provide:

  • Food and water
  • Shelter and protection from weather
  • Veterinary attention from injury, disease, or suffering
  • A sanitary space to live in

How Do You Know If an Animal Is Being Abused?

Veterinary professionals learn that if an animal is being abused in a household, it is likely that the family members and people in that household are also being abused. Animals will often exhibit symptoms of abuse behaviorally. They may cower, run away from people, act shy around objects, and avoid being handled or pet.

Definitions of Animal Cruelty

  • Abandonment: Abandonment often occurs when an owner drops an animal off unattended or vacates a house and leaves their pet behind. The pets often starve to death. Many times when an owner passes away, caged animals like birds and horses are left forgotten and are especially at risk. Learn how to tell if a dog is a stray.
  • Improperly secured or dangerous transport (back of a vehicle): Dogs that are unsecured in the back of a vehicle or trapped inside a hot car or freezing car are subjects of cruelty. Dogs can die within minutes of being locked in a hot car.
  • Subjecting an animal to torture, suffering, and cruelty: Dogfighting (cockfighting and bloodsport) is illegal in all 50 states. Often these cruel activities are linked to illegal activities like drug dealing, humand-directed violence, and other horrific crimes. Suffering may also include depriving an animal of proper veterinary care for a disease or wound.
  • Torturing, beating, mutilating, or killing cruelly: Anyone who intentionally hurts an animal like in cases of revenge (neighbors are fighting and one person goes after the other's pet) may be charged with a felony.
  • Failing to contact the police after hitting a dog or cat with a car
  • Using animals for bait
  • Offering a live animal as a prize
  • Using vertebrates for experiments that cause suffering

These definitions were collected from the Humane Society.

How to Stop Animal Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Hoarding Animals Abuse?

Yes, hoarding situations result from people with untreated hoarding disorder—a condition that requires mental services. Often times, animal hoarders have the intention of helping animals, but things get out of hand. Finances can run short or run out, hoarders can loose track of animals or not be able to keep up with the animals' reproduction (especially true of rodents, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs). This can result in cases where animals are kept in unhealthy conditions with inadequate food or water.

What Is My State's Law?

Some states charge an abuser with a felony if they have a previous conviction. 46 states will allow for first-offense felonies. Since 2016, the FBI now tracks animal cruelty within a Uniform Crime Report. According to HumaneSociety.org, these categories include:

  • Gross neglect
  • Intentional abuse and torture
  • Organized abuse (dogfighting)
  • Abuse (sexual)

Is Tethering a Dog Up Considered Abuse?

There are incredible resources out there that detail state-by-state laws on tethering a dog up. In California, for example, the law is as follows:

"No person shall tether, fasten, chain, tie, or restrain a dog to any dog house, tree, fence, or other stationary object . . . . A person may temporarily tether a dog no longer than is necessary for the person to complete a temporary task.”

Dogs that are constantly chained or tethered are deprived of social interaction. They may also develop wounds and pressure sores. These dogs are subjected to extreme temperatures and don't have the option of escaping. Tethered dogs, too, are more likely react to humans in extreme ways. These situations are dangerous for both humans and the dog.

Veterinary Professionals Take an Oath to Report Abuse

Any animal that is treated by a veterinarian and exhibits injuries indicative of abuse results in an escalated situation. Oftentimes, children and family members inside the household are also at risk of being abused.

Dogs are social creatures and require interaction. Isolation and restraint leads to psychotic behaviors—well-behaved, sweet dogs may exhibit atypical behaviors, self-harm (chewing paws), repeatedly bark, become aggressive, or exhibit other behaviors indicative of neglect.

Circuses violate many animal rights.

Circuses violate many animal rights.

Other Types of Animal Abuse

According to DoSomething.org, here are other commons areas and targets of abuse:

  1. Puppy Mills: Massive "dog farms" that are focused on producing offspring irregardless of health, welfare, or genetically inherited disease. These animals often lack proper food, shelter, vaccinations, and general health care.
  2. Greyhounds: Greyhounds are used for racing and undergo "selective breeding." These dogs have an extremely shortened lifespan and endure many injuries.
  3. Broiler Chickens: 90% of broiler chickens in the U.S. cannot walk well due to genetic manipulation.
  4. Dogfighting: Much like cockfighting, dogfighting still occurs illegally in the U.S. and throughout the world.
  5. Fur: The fur industry is extremely misleading. A majority of fur comes from China. Here, dogs and cats are cruelly bled and skinned. This industry lacks quality and welfare controls.
  6. Hoarding: 250,000 animals are victims of hoarding every year in the U.S.
  7. Experimentation: Many species (rodents, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, turtles, monkeys, amphibians, etc.) are held for experiments and euthanized after.
  8. Rodeo or running of the bulls: Rooted in tradition, many of these activities involve inducing some form of pain to get livestock to perform.
  9. Circus: According to DoSomething.org, "Every major circus that uses animals has been cited for violating the minimal standards of care set by the United States Animal Welfare (AWA)."
  10. Exotic Pet Trade: Many exotics are irresponsibly and illegally taken from the wild. Some are bred in captivity in unregulated circumstances. This is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Adopt and Don't Shop! My Story

Our beloved dog was an abuse case. He was kept chained up in a dry/hot climate on a farm and castrated without anesthesia. A family member reported the abuse case and the original owner was charged with a felony. We adopted our sweet dog when he was one year of age. It took him a few months to get used to the house, used to being indoors, and to get used to the presence of men. Work boots really scare him. He is the sweetest, most gentle, joyful dog we have ever welcomed into our home.

Our cat came from a hoarding situation. She was being kept and being bred with her brother when she was only six or seven months of age. Unfortunately, she became pregnant but her babies weren't viable. Her body tried to reabsorb the pregnancy, but instead she came down with a uterine infection. She was so sick and septic that she required emergency surgery. She recovered. Although she was under-socialized when we got her, she's super sweet and loves to cuddle.

Always consider extending your heart to an animal that is in need of a good home. Adopt and don't shop!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Layne Holmes

Do You Have a Story to Share?

Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 01, 2019:

Thanks for the read Lora! So cool to hear you are involved in rescue work. I get really upset seeing tethered dogs and I'm so glad you act on it. It's hard work rescuing animals as you now. I recently attended a really great lecture with the "kitten lady" and she said the one excuse a lot of people give for not getting involved is "Oh, I just couldn't, it would break my heart" or "Oh, I just couldn't, I'd take all of them home." She made an excellent point about these statements and really what it is "to love" means. If we really LOVE animals, we want the best for them—independent of our own needs. That means helping them and placing them in homes. I think we can all really make a difference, even if it's setting an example. My mom set an example for me quite early—she would yell out of her window while driving "It's too hot to be walking your dog!" I used to get embarrassed, and now I'm proud. Thanks for all of your hard work.

Lora Hollings on April 30, 2019:

Animal abuse and neglect are just heartbreaking! Being involved with rescue myself, I've seen a number of cases of extreme neglect to the point of animal abuse. The most common form of animal cruelty is constant dog chaining or tethering where the animal is chained 24 hours every day and never taken off the chain to have any freedom and never receives any social interaction. I've seen a number of dogs in this situation and thankfully was able to intervene and place them into homes where they would be loved and finally treated as companion animals! This article is a great resource for instructing people on what to do if they encounter an animal that is being intentionally hurt or one that is suffering from neglect. Your message that we all need to take animal cruelty seriously and report it to authorities is one that we all need to do! Animals are dependent upon us to speak out and take action for them as they cannot. Thank you for writing this article to better inform people on what they need to do to help animals who are in such tragic situations before it is too late.