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Animal neglect and abuse: to report or not to report...
You May Be Unpleasantly Surprised
You know of an animal that you believe is being neglected or abused. Should you get involved? Do you confront the owner? Which authority do you call? Is it likely that the owner will retaliate against you? Can you get into trouble by getting involved?
Reporting and prosecuting animal cruelty is arguably the greatest dilemma that animal lovers and humane law enforcement agencies face because there’s no universal definition of animal cruelty. What one may think is cruel may well be within accepted protocols, whether one likes it or not.
Bear in mind that, anatomically, physiologically, and socially, animals are naturally adapted to live under conditions that are crude by our standards. In fact, in many cases, subjecting them to our “creature comforts” could actually do more harm than good.
According to the Massachusetts Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals (MSPCA), one definition of cruelty that many humane law enforcement officials use is found in Black’s Law Dictionary:
“Cruelty To Animals. The infliction of physical pain, suffering or death upon an animal, when not necessary for purposes of training or discipline or (in the case of death) to procure food or to release the animal from incurable suffering, but done wantonly, for mere sport, for the indulgence of a cruel and vindictive temper, or with reckless indifference to its pain.”
That definition certainly leaves room for interpretation and debate. What if one inflicts pain as part of training or discipline?
With very few exceptions, animal professionals will tell you that that’s not the way to train or discipline, yet it doesn’t violate any laws.
A few of us in my neighborhood, acting independently, called the MSPCA when we felt another neighbor was neglecting two dogs.
The only violation cited was the lack of adequate shelter. The shelter that was ultimately provided didn’t meet our standards, but it did satisfy the law.
We all see things differently.
Trying to write a commonly accepted definition of animal cruelty is like trying to write a commonly accepted definition of pornography:
What you end up with is: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” And, alas, we all see things differently.
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So, what do you do if you believe you know of a case of animal cruelty? If discussing the situation with the animal’s owner is not an option, you might start with your local Animal Control Officer (ACO) or your local police department.
You can also call your local chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
In most jurisdictions you can call anonymously, but if you want to get verbal results of their investigation you’ll have to leave your name and number.
Humane agencies usually promise that your identity will be kept in strictest confidence.
Also in most jurisdictions, local police departments are authorized and empowered, just as ASPCA officers are, to act in cases of animal cruelty.
Just keep in mind that an agency might cover a large geographical area and therefore may not be able to respond as quickly as the local police.
Humane organizations strongly advise that you don’t take matters into your own hands and remove an animal from what you perceive to be a cruelty situation. You could get yourself into serious trouble if it turns out that the animal was, indeed, being maintained under legally acceptable protocols.
There’s a well-documented connection between animal cruelty and violence against humans. There are the widely heralded studies conducted by the Humane Society of the United States in conjunction with other animal and human service agencies, and a study by the MSPCA in conjunction with Northeastern University, which validate that premise.
Getting involved, but at arm’s length, can protect animals and humans from abuse.