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Should I Report Animal Neglect And Abuse?

Updated on November 11, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock, and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


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.”


Laws Can Be Ambiguous

The above definition certainly leaves room for interpretation and debate. What if one inflicts pain as part of training or discipline?

What is considered a normal level of pain for training or disciplinary purposes, and who gets to define that?

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.

Steps You Can Take To Report Suspected Animal Neglect Or Cruelty

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.


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© 2012 Bob Bamberg


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    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Nadene, you've got to have a great feeling knowing you gave him the best nine months of his life. Can you imagine the love he felt for that time? I hope you gain comfort in knowing that he died loved and valued beyond anything he experienced previously.

      It's folks like you who tip the teeter-totter the other way...from the horrible stories of neglect and abuse to great examples that goodness exists in this world. Thanks for all you do! Regards, Bob

    • Nadene Seiters profile image

      Nadene Seiters 

      6 years ago from Elverson, PA


      I mentioned it in another hub of mine, it turns out he had a collapsing trachea, a brain tumor, and was almost blind. I figured if he was micro chipped the previous owners must have cared for him. He lived about nine months in my care, but in the time I had him he went from being a lump on the floor to actually walking outside with me and my other two dogs. He died rather suddenly, but I'm glad it was quick and I hope that the time he spent with me made up for some of the other troubles he had in his life. No one ever came looking for him and I kept an eye out for ads on local bulletin boards and websites, but nothing showed up.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Patty, thanks for sharing Casper's story. He was one of the lucky ones that got rescued. Who knows how many in similar situations just die, alone and suffering from neglect. It tears your heart to learn of such cases, but there are also a lot of happy eventualities that we hear about, too.

      Unfortunately, the neglectful owners usually get away with it. In my neck of the woods, animal cruelty is pursued and prosecuted, but I'm learning that there are vast regions of the country where that's not the case. Thanks for stopping by. Regards, Bob

      Hello, Lawrence, thanks for commenting. I agree that folks should report animal neglect and cruelty, then let the authorities sort it out. But, as DrMark pointed out a few comments above, and as I said in the hub, what is neglect to one person may be just their perception and not a violation of any humane laws or ordinances.

      In many parts of the country, dogs being tied out within range of shelter, food and water is fine. Yet, in other parts of the country, laws are being written that regulate the length of time a dog can be tied out and how much time must elapse between "tied out" periods. The culture is dramatically different regionally.

      Glad to have you drop by and comment. Regards, Bob

    • Lawrence Da-vid profile image

      Lawrence Da-vid 

      6 years ago

      Opinion! Yes! it's your business to notify respective authorities in the even you have first hand knowledge of animal abuse. They can't call, they can't plead for help. Fear of retaliation.....I couldn't care less as long as animal abuse is a word to a judge that is humane friendly can ensure no from my encounters with authorities, once they are involved and gather evidence of animal abuse, your involvement is not needed.

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image


      6 years ago from Midwest

      Appearances are VERY deceiving. Case in point is Casper, our akita/mastiff. By appearances:

      Casper had shelter. Casper was not underweight. Casper had a food & water bowls. Casper had a fenced in back yard of a home in a nice neighborhood.

      Casper's Reality:

      Casper's shelter was a medium sized igloo that he could not enter. Casper weighed 130# from peanut butter sandwiches thrown over the fence from a neighbor. Casper's water bowl was full but food dish was always empty because the adult daughter in charge of his care spent his food money on drugs.

      Appearances did NOT show: advanced heartworms, arthritis, impaired vision, etc.

      We got involved. We talked to neighbors. We skip-traced the owners to another state and asked them to surrender him. We took him to that city's only vet who verified that he had only seen Casper once as a puppy 8 years prior.

      Yes, getting involved in neglect, abuse, cruelty is a tough call. It takes a little investigation to determine the true situation, either good or bad. But simply being indifferent to it does not save an animal's life or change it for the better.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi DrMark, thanks for stopping by. I couldn't resist when the guy (I forget who it was) said that because of the technology, there was no excuse for spelling and grammar errors, then went on to make one.

      We are on the same page on this issue, I think. Perhaps I didn't make my point, though. The dog in the picture isn't at the Ritz, but, as you say, he is provided for and prevented from wandering.

      I think ACO's and other animal advocates get tired of the false alarms, but they're mandated to respond to every call. Our local ACO takes it in stride, but the bigger agencies get tired of jumping through hoops...especially when it's a case of a disgruntled neighbor just wanting to make life difficult for someone.

      Having the store, I got to see two very different perspectives on animal husbandry...the pet mentality and the farm mentality...and it was a very interesting study in contrasts.

      The pet mentality is nearly pure emotion, while the farm mentality is more science and practicality. I'll probably take a few hits from the pet folks over this, but it is what it is, as they say.

      My point in the article was: don't stand by and watch an animal get abused, but at the same time, what you think is abuse may not be. I guess I just should have said, "Think twice before dropping that dime."

      Thanks for weighing in...or is it inn...your comments always advance the discussion. Regards, Bob

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      I jes red ur comment on my question--good, as always. I ran out of letters, but wanted to point out that although I do not always agree with your POV, your hubs are always factually correct.

      This is another hot issue, for, as you know, the abuse is sometimes in the eye of the viewer. I told you about my Huskies that would lie outside in the snow rather than enter their houses. Is that abuse? That Vizsla cross in your photos may not have a happy life, but he is provided for. He is not skinny, he has shelter. Is tying a dog up cruel? If I did not tie my dog up she would follow me to town and probably end up being hit by a car. "Cruel to be kind".

      Think twice before dropping that dime.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello Sis, that's among the cruelest of events, both by the perp and by law enforcement. Neither would have gotten away with it in my neck of the woods. Law enforcement and the courts take animal cruelty very seriously here, and cases are prosecuted. There's also always a public outcry, just to let them know we're watching them.

      Here's a salute to you for doing what you can in the face of an indifferent legal system. It's too bad it has to be that way. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

      Hi Patty, thanks for dropping in. Isn't it the truth; what they say about evil. I'd like to think things are improving somewhat, though. I'm aware of a lot of animal-friendly legislation proposed all over the country, however much of it is not well thought out and is poorly written, and never sees the light of day.

      It's amazing how much of it potentially infringes upon the rights of owners. I wrote a hub about it:

      Animal Rights Laws: An Ominous Double Edged Sword

      As long as there are those wonderful, dedicated shelter volunteers and so many others who are willing to step up and help a needy animal, the movement to meaningful humane legislation will continue. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image


      6 years ago from Midwest

      Animal neglect, abuse and cruelty really get my blood boiling and on so many levels. The definitions are broad but the least an onlooker can do is bring awareness to the situation. You know what they say about evil...enough good men doing nothing.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Because of a feud between neighbors -- acid was thrown in the faces of two horses and burned them terribly and blinded one of them. Our law enforcement acknowledged it happened but took a hands-off attitude and no one was ever arrested or punished for this awful crime. Thereafter, whenever I witness animal abuse I do what I can personally as there's certainly no back-up system in my part of Texas to take care of it. Good Hub -- and needed. Best/Sis

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Nadene, nice to meet you. I'm glad you stopped by; your experience points out that I need to amend the poll, which I will do in a few seconds.

      You had them check for a microchip before you decided to keep the dog, which was obviously neglected, so you get an attagirl for that. When I wrote the poll I was thinking in terms of sneaking in and grabbing the animal...sort of like a re-po guy.

      You did a generous and humane thing by rescuing the dog...I'm curious as to how it turned out. You're right, too, about people having different definitions of neglect or cruelty. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • Nadene Seiters profile image

      Nadene Seiters 

      6 years ago from Elverson, PA

      It's interesting what different people perceive to be cruel to animals. In my case, if anything is hurt I intervene. I once found a dog on the road, a Pomeranian, who obviously had been abused. Other than letting the vet look for a microchip, I did not try to find the owner. It turns out he had a brain tumor, so whoever had him most likely ditched him on the side of the road. It happens a lot in my area. I guess that would be taking matters into my own hands.


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