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How to Report Animal Abuse or Maltreatment?

Our canine, feline, avian and equine companions are beloved family members. The only differences are they have four legs, speak a different language, and tend to have more hair. They provide us with great comfort, unconditional love, and you can tell them anything with the assurance they will keep your secret. Unfortunately, there are those who do not share this love of animals. Or their love is grossly misguided or inappropriate. While recognizing people love all types of animals from hamsters to hedgehogs, this article will focus on the most common pets, dogs and cats.

Types of Animal Abuse and Maltreatment

Maltreatment encompasses abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Abuse is defined as an overt act of commission, or something which is done which should not be. Abuse can be physical, emotional/psychological, or sexual. Neglect is defined as a covert act of omission or failure to do something which should be done. Neglect can be physical, emotional/psychological, such as isolation (which may also be classified as abuse) or medical. Exploitation typically involves animals fighting for entertainment. Specific examples of maltreatment include: 

  • Isolation without the company of people or other animals. 
  • Physical abuse by short leashes or prolonged time in a small cage
  • Physical abuse by beatings beyond reasonable physical discipline
  • Sexual abuse. Zoophilia is a mental illness involving sexual desire toward animals. Engaging an animal in sexual activity is a form of abuse.
  • Neglect by leaving a dog in a hot car
  • Neglect through inadequate food and inadequate water
  • Neglect of medical care
  • Exploitation through dog or cock fighting for sport and gambling is a crime. 
  • Exploitation through sadistic videos on-line.

Reasons for Animal Abuse and Maltreatment

The motives for animal maltreatment are similar to that of child maltreatment. Some people should not have children, and those same people should probably not have pets either. Anger issues, a pathological need to control and dominate, drug and alcohol abuse, emotional immaturity, sadism and cruelty and mental illness can all be contributors to child maltreatment and animal maltreatment. 

Very disturbed individuals with conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder sometimes abuse and mistreat animals as part of their overall lack of regard for living things, and innate capacity for cruelty, sadism, and violence. Deliberate and elaborate cruelty to animals is widely considered a predictor of future sadistic violence toward people, and is something which needs to be taken very seriously. 

There are websites which depict either fake or actual depictions of animal abuse. Some look very realistic, but they are contrived. Others are animal snuff films, which show animals being tortured and killed. 

There are people who hoard and live in filth and squalor, and will have many more animals than they are able to care for. The home will be littered with animal feces, and the animals will be underweight, sick and dirty. The smell will be beyond description. Removal of the animals is indicated, and many will have to be euthanized. People who hoard and live in such conditions typically have a severe and untreated mental illness, such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or schizophrenia. They are incapable of caring for themselves or their pets. 

Still other people don’t have the intelligence or awareness to care for a pet, and will leave a dog locked in a hot car with the windows rolled up, or not realize that a pet need to receive medical care, food water and shelter. 

Signs in Abused and Maltreated Animals

There are behavioral indicators to look for: 

  • An overly aggressive or fearful dog or cat. 
  • Burns, missing patches of fur, bleeding, fractures, missing parts from ears or a tail, or other obvious signs of physical abuse
  • A dog or cat that is underweight
  • A large number of animals in a home
  • Dogs or cats with dirty, unkempt fur
  • An owner who is cold and distant with their pet. Per owners tend to be very warm and doting on their pets. 

What to Do if You Suspect an Animal is Being Abused?

When you contact one of the agencies below, communicate clearly that you want your report to be anonymous.  

  • Call 911/local police if there is an obvious emergency such as a dog locked in a car on a hot summer day. Your call will be trapped and your phone number identified by the 911 system, so although you can request that your report is anonymous, it may not stay that way. 
  • Call the non-emergency number for the Animal Control officers at your local police. Again it may or may not be possible for your report to remain anonymous. 
  • If you see animals that appear to be mistreated on a website, contacting the website host only is insufficient. This may get the site shut down or removed, but the perpetrators will just move their site to a new host. To shut them down, contact the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
  • The SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or the American Humane Association can also be contacted regarding possible animal cruelty. 

To assist law enforcement with the investigation, provide the following information:

  • The type of animal involved
  • The number of animals involved
  • Signs of maltreatment  you have observed
  • Identify the owners of the animals
  • Indicate if you believe the maltreatment is ongoing

Even if you are unclear about what you have seen, report it. Animals cannot report abuse, or defend themselves as well as people in many circumstances. They have to count on decent people speaking for them and defending them.