Why You Should Report Animal Cruelty and Tips on How to Do That
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org


The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
March 2015


If you are reading this, chances are you care about animal welfare and take excellent care of your own pets. All the same, would you know what to do if you suspected someone in your community of animal abuse or neglect? While many of us wouldn’t hesitate to rescue a stray, situations in which an animal technically has a legal owner can feel tricky. Even when we know that something we’ve witnessed constitutes animal cruelty, some of us may still feel ambivalent about involving law enforcement. We don’t want to be seen as snoops, nor do we want to be seen as making frivolous complaints on behalf of a “mere animal”. Furthermore, the last thing we want is to create turmoil in our communities and social circles. Due in part to worries like these, far too many witnesses don’t report animal cruelty when they see it. However, every person should know when and how they should contact law enforcement to report animal cruelty.

First, if you see an animal in immediate physical danger, it is time to call law enforcement. Start dialing any time you see an animal trapped inside a hot car, in danger of freezing to death, or involved in a violent situation. If you do not know the number of the local animal control office, call the local sheriff’s office. If you cannot reach the sheriff’s office, call 911. You will not get in trouble for making a truthful report in good faith, and you could very well save a life.

In other cases, the situation you’re witnessing may not be considered an emergency, but problematic nonetheless. While you may not call 911 to report a continuously tethered dog, you may still be able to recruit help from animal control. In this case, it can be helpful to know about your county’s animal cruelty laws and ordinances. The website of your county commission or local humane society can help you learn the laws of your area. That said, even if you are unsure of the law as it pertains to the situation you’ve witnessed, you can still contact your local animal control or sheriff’s office, report what you’ve seen, and request that a “welfare check” be conducted at the address in question. Officers may not impound the animal, but they are likely to educate the owner. Rest assured that requesting a welfare check is not the same as filing a complaint or asking to press charges. A request for a welfare check is simply a request for officers to visit the property. You can also request that your identity not be revealed to the owner.

Unfortunately, many cases of animal abuse and neglect are resolved too late or not at all, simply because witnesses only came forward in the form of gossip or long after the fact. While advocating for abused animals can feel stressful at times, in many cases, the difference between a miserable death and a long, happy life is a single phone call.


Community Actions

As the many connections between animal abuse and human violence demonstrate, we must work together as a community to achieve a more humane and just world for animals and humans alike; no one segment of our society can address this issue alone.

Below are a few community actions you can take as a professional, advocate, or educator to help deter animal cruelty and encourage kindness and respect toward all living creatures.

  • Write letters to prosecutors, judges, and others involved in the legal process for animal cruelty cases in your community. Request that those responsible for the cruel act be given strict penalties so that a clear message of abhorrence to cruelty will be sent to the community and society as a whole. We must send a loud and clear message that cruelty to animals will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
  • Write letters to your local and state legislators to encourage them to enact tougher animal cruelty laws. Find out if there are organizations in your locale that lobby and help them with letter writing, telephone, and leafleting campaigns.
  • Also, write letters to the editors of newspapers. Encourage friends and family to join in the letter-writing campaign. Even one letter can sometimes make a difference.
  • Work toward closer cooperation, coordination, and collaboration among child protection agencies, animal welfare organizations, legislators, and the criminal justice system. Failure by one profession to recognize and report suspected abuse in another domain only serves to condone and perpetuate the maltreatment.
  • Create interdisciplinary teams of community social service agencies that will meet regularly to identify cases in which a high risk for animal cruelty is indicated and initiate appropriate responses.
  • Partner up with teachers and local animal rescues to implement humane education programs in your community’s schools, libraries, clubs, and other venues where children can be taught kindness and respect for animals.
  • In providing education to others, be aware of media images and films that devalue animals and promote cruel treatment of them. Educate others to be critical thinkers and to discuss these images to determine the message they are sending to the viewer. If the messages are inappropriate, suggest contacting the media responsible for them and letting them know of your reaction to these images.
  • Encourage children, family, and friends to humanely and responsibly interact with our natural world—we can only appreciate, value, and protect what we know and care about.

Suggested Contacts for Reporting Animal Abuse

If you suspect animal abuse/cruelty in your community, you will want to report it to the appropriate organization(s) for investigation. Below is a list of the type of organization you may find in your area.

  • Local humane societies or SPCA
  • Animal Control
  • Other Rescue Groups: search WorldAnimal.net - national directory of animal related organizations to find rescues in your area.

Also, consider these other sources to combat animal abuse and cruelty:

  • Law Enforcement: contact sheriff, police department, constable, etc., to report suspicions of neglect/cruelty.
  • Prosecuting Attorney/Judge: contact your local judicial representatives to advocate for enforcement of local and state animal protection laws.
  • Town Officials/Mayor/Senators & Representatives: contact political figures to help bring animal protection issues to the public's attention and enact/revise related laws.
  • State Veterinarians/Dept. of Agriculture: contact regarding issues for pet stores and breeding operations, rescues/shelters, circuses, zoos, farms, etc.
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife: enforces many wildlife-related federal laws and management programs.
  • Animal Welfare Institute - Report Lab Anmal Issues regarding lab animal care.

Tips for Reporting Abuse

Witnessing animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect is a distressing situation. We often are unsure of what to do or whom to contact. NHES offers the following tips and resources for reporting animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect.

If you believe a violation of animal cruelty and neglect laws is occurring:

  • Familiarize yourself with local and state animal cruelty/neglect laws. What constitutes animal neglect can be especially ambiguous so be sure to contact animal regulatory agencies for assistance in interpreting the laws.
  • Document the animal cruelty/neglect you suspect is occurring. Dated notes with descriptions of the animal(s), conditions, and other factors along with photos can be very helpful to both investigators and criminal prosecutors. However, do not violate any laws or put yourself or other persons or animals in danger while documenting suspected animal abuse.
  • As necessary, report your suspicions to more than one agency and conduct follow-up phone calls and emails to ensure the agencies are responding to the situation. Many investigators are overwhelmed with animal abuse complaints and cases; persistent and patient communications with them are important.
  • Plan to keep tabs on the animal’s care to ensure his or her care is improving and offer your assistance (see non-violations information below) or file more complaints if it is not. In many circumstances, animal cruelty investigators will first attempt to educate animal owners and/or issue fines before considering the removal of animals or pressing charges. You can help investigators by keeping a humane eye on the situation.
  • Be prepared to be patient, open-minded, and compassionate. Depending on the severity of the situation, it may take much time and persistence to effect the positive care and treatment we all know our animal friends deserve. Everything you do to help does make an important difference.
  • If you believe no violation of animal cruelty and neglect laws is occurring but know the animal treatment could be much better: try to find out what is the cause of the less-than-ideal animal care. For instance, rather than quickly condemning seemingly neglectful neighbors, try to find out why the dog is always chained up or why there are so many skinny cats running around: is it lack of caring, or is it lack of knowledge and resources? Are there extenuating life circumstances placing roadblocks to quality animal care?
  • Serve as a living humane example. Demonstrate kind and responsible animal care toward your own pets and toward the animals you wish to help. Offer compassionate education and assistance through friendly conversation, educational materials, and animal care items. For instance, lend the neighbor your unused dog crate and share with them the benefits of crate training.
  • Organize caring citizens in your city and state to lobby for the passage of laws regulating the humane care and treatment of animals. For example, dog chaining/tethering is an issue in many locales where dogs are tied out all day, all year around. If there are no laws restricting the hours a dog can be tied out or the conditions under which he or she can live, you may want to gather like-minded citizens to lobby for better treatment of chained dogs.

Reporting Internet Animal Abuse

NHES frequently receives questions pertaining to the issue of Internet animal abuse, such as, "What can I do about websites that promote animal cruelty?"

From networking with other humane organizations and doing our own research, NHES has come up with steps for you to take if you suspect animal cruelty on a website:

  • First, do not attempt to communicate with the person operating the website. Many of these individuals achieve gratification from the number of negative feedback messages they receive. Therefore, it is truly important NOT to feed into this offensive behavior.
  • Second, NHES recommends contacting the web hosting service. Locate the host by doing a lookup on a “WHOIS” database site; there are several that can be found through a quick search. Hosts have the power to remove the negative websites. The host will take this action if it feels the content of the website in question violates its User's Agreement.
  • If the abuse is promoted not by a specific website, but by an individual user posting on a social website such as Facebook or YouTube, you will not be able to easily locate the person’s information yourself. Instead, you will need to report the post to the administration of that website. Most social sites have the ability to “flag” a post as inappropriate. If you believe that the poster is breaking the law, save the webpage to your hard drive and alert law enforcement. Police may be able to subpoena IP addresses and charge the individual responsible (IP or Internet Protocol addresses are individual numbers assigned to each machine connecting to a network). 

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