Photo by The National Humane Education Society
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. For more information on how to report animal cruelty, visit http://nhes.org/sections/view/283.