What Should I Do If I See Someone Mistreating An Animal?

Some instances of animal abuse or neglect warrant calling 911. But if the pet isn’t in immediate danger, there are better options. This is part of a HuffPost series looking at alternatives to policing. You can read the other pieces here.

If I see an animal being abused or neglected, should I call the police?

Animal cruelty is against the law in every state, though standards for what constitutes illegal mistreatment vary. Animal cruelty may include physical attacks like beating or dog fighting, or neglectful behavior like abandonment, hoarding, tethering or failure to provide adequate shelter or veterinary care. In 2019, certain acts of intentional animal cruelty also became a federal crime. And researchers have found that people who harm animals are more likely to harm other people, too.

If an animal is in immediate physical danger — a dog trapped in a hot car, a pet without shelter or water during extreme weather, an animal being beaten — you should call 911, said Mike Perkins, director of the Atlanta Humane Society’s cruelty investigation division.

“911 operators can get the information to animal control and police departments in an expeditious manner, which will shorten the response time,” he told HuffPost.

But if it’s not an emergency — like a tethered dog or a neighbor hoarding cats — do not call 911. Contact either your local animal control division, humane society or animal shelter, depending on what resources are available in your area. If you can’t figure out who to call, try the local police nonemergency number, 311, which can direct you to the correct division or organization if they don’t handle these cases themselves, said Candace Croney, director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science.

Before reporting abuse or neglect to police or animal control, collect as much information as you can, including the date, time and address where it occurred; description of the property; description of the animal; any injuries or abuse it has sustained; and other potential witnesses. If you can safely get photo or video documentation of the abuse, those assets can be helpful too.

What if I just suspect abuse or neglect is occurring?

You should still file a report with your local animal control division or humane society. Croney also recommends reaching out to a veterinarian, veterinary college or animal shelter in your area, which may be able to point you in the right direction.

Croney does not advise making direct contact or confronting the animal’s owner yourself. “Doing so could put your own safety at risk and could also potentially complicate or impede an official investigation,” she said.

What about other animal issues — like if there’s a raccoon or coyote on my property?

A wild animal like a coyote, bear or mountain lion may just be passing through. Keep an eye on it from inside your house ― do not go outside ― and see if it hangs around or moves along.

If the animal stays or keeps coming back, it may be because it’s found a food source in your backyard. Remove any temptations when it’s safe to do so.

“Take down wildlife feeders, move pet food indoors, fence off bee hives or gardens, block off access to shelter,” said Leslie Burger, assistant extension professor at Mississippi State University’s department of wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture. “These kinds of actions would eliminate most human-wildlife interactions that occur.”

If this doesn’t resolve the situation, then you will need to contact your state’s wildlife agency. Calling the police is usually not the best option here, as they typically lack the specialized training needed in these scenarios.

“Examples of this might include spotting a deer injured in a vehicle collision, seeing a raccoon staggering around in the open during the day or dealing with livestock damage by wildlife,” Burger said. “State wildlife organizations will have personnel such as conservation officers and biologists who are trained to handle these kinds of situations.”

Where can I go for more information and resources?

Read other stories in this series

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