Report Cruelty to Animals
What To Do If You Spot Animal Abuse
If you think that an animal is being abused or neglected, it is important that you do something about it. Your involvement may be the animal’s only hope.
Where to Start
First, find out which agency is responsible for investigating and enforcing the anti-cruelty laws in your state, county, or town. This may be a local humane society or SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or a taxpayer-funded animal shelter (animal control). In jurisdictions without a humane society or animal-management department, citizens can call upon the police or sheriff’s department to enforce the law.
If the animal victim is not in immediate need of rescue, check state and local animal-protection laws by visiting your local library or city hall or by conducting an online search. Print out a copy of any laws that you believe are being violated, and be ready to cite these laws to authorities. In most states, causing an animal “unnecessary suffering” is illegal. That term can include everything from beating an animal to depriving him or her of clean water, food, or shelter.
If the animal is in a life-threatening situation, call authorities immediately. Follow up with them in a timely manner to determine their findings and course of action. If they do not respond right away, call PETA.
Once you have determined which law-enforcement agency to contact (and ensured that the animal is not in imminent danger), provide authorities with a short, concise, factual, written statement, detailing the key points of what you have observed and giving dates, locations, and approximate times. Timely fact-gathering is crucial—the more time that passes, the greater the risk that specifics will be forgotten, witnesses will move, evidence will disappear, injuries will heal, etc. If you can, take pictures and date them; photographic or videotaped evidence fortifies your case, and short, factual, written statements from other witnesses will back up your observations.
Always keep a record of everyone you contact (official or otherwise), the dates of the contacts, and the content and outcome of your discussions. Never pass on a letter, photograph, or any documentation without first creating a copy for your file. Make it crystal clear to authorities that you wish to pursue this case and are willing to lend your assistance if necessary, and be sure to follow up! If you stay involved, they’re more likely to do the same.
Law-enforcement officials should inspect the animal visually, and if possible, conduct a hands-on field exam (referred to as “palpating” the animal) in order to find injuries or an otherwise unhealthy physical condition that may be obscured by the victim’s fur. Officials will often be fooled by a dog who “acts happy,” but manic or social behavior does not mean that the animal is safe; he or she may just be anxious to please or desperate for attention. A more thorough examination is necessary, and an injured or clearly endangered animal must not be left behind. The crime scene should also be thoroughly inspected for any indication that abuse has occurred. Suspects and neighbors (potential witnesses) should be interviewed. If the investigator agrees that your complaint has merit, a warning may be issued, charges filed, a warrant served, and/or the animal(s) removed.
Pursuing Your Case
Persistence has saved countless animals from abusive people. If you are unable to get satisfaction from law-enforcement officers, go straight to their supervisors. If necessary, appeal to local government officials, such as the mayor, prosecutor, city council members, or county commissioners. A simple call to the media (TV and print) in your area can move mountains. News coverage often forces officials to act and can also scare the abuser into stopping the cruel behavior. News coverage may also inspire viewers who have seen similar acts to step forward and share their own accounts.
If you have personally witnessed an act of cruelty, you can go to your local magistrate or police commissioner and swear out a warrant to summon the abuser to court. Expert witnesses can be very helpful—a veterinarian, for example, can sign a statement that it is his or her “expert opinion” that a dog suffers if swung by a leash, deprived of food, etc. If you know a sympathetic veterinarian, seek his or her assistance, and let officials know that you have expert support.
Call PETA for Help
Advocating for abused or neglected animals can be difficult and heart-wrenching, but they are depending on you to find the strength to take action. You are in the position to make all the difference in the world for the animals in your community. Please feel free to contact PETA if you need guidance or support, or if officials fail to respond quickly to your complaint.
You can improve the lives of dogs and cats suffering from cruelty and neglect.
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An 8-point plan to protect your animal companion
When choosing a veterinarian, be brave—
your animal is depending on it.
Veterinarian Theodore Deppner,with the Washington Humane
Society,offers this advice:
Ask to see a copy of the vet’s license. This should be posted in the
public area of the clinic.
Ask for a tour of the clinic; if you are refused,take your animal
elsewhere. The clinic should be clean and orderly. Animals should be
comfortably housed in clean cages or kennels.
Observe your animal. Is your companion handshy around the vet,as
though expecting a blow? Does he or she cower or urinate when the
vet enters the room?
Observe the veterinarian. Is he or she nervous or irritable? Does he
or she go into the back room for even simple procedures? Are the
technicians rough when handling your animal?
ALWAYS exercise your right to be with your animal at all times! If the vet
or vet tech wants to take your companion to another room, insist on
going with him or her. If the vet refuses,don’t hesitate—take your animal and
If your animal must stay overnight (and always question this), make
sure someone is going to be there to monitor him or her at all times.
Ask questions. A good vet should explain what he or she is doing at
all times and why.
For anything major, seek a second and third opinion. You are
entitled to copies of your companion’s medical records and
If you believe an animal has been mistreated, take him or her to
another vet for a thorough examination. If you have evidence of
malpractice, you can file a complaint with the veterinary licensing
board in your area. For outright cruelty,contact local law
enforcement.Keep records,and take photos.
* . * . *
Beware of Veterinary Malpractice and Grooming Incidents
The difficulty in coping when a companion animal suffers from an injury—or death—is compounded when you suspect that negligence or abuse by your veterinarian may be to blame. You can help protect your animal before tragedy strikes by seeking out a skilled and caring veterinarian (ask for references from trusted friends and humane organizations and call the local Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to check for complaints); seeking a second or third opinion about your animal’s diagnosis before proceeding with surgery or treatment; and carefully monitoring your animal’s stay and treatment at the veterinary clinic. Never hesitate to ask questions about your animal’s treatment and never leave your animal overnight at a veterinary hospital unless you are convinced you must.
If your animal companion does become sick or injured while at a veterinary clinic, immediately take your animal to another veterinarian for a second opinion and treatment. Ask for copies of your animal’s medical records from the original veterinarian and show these to the second veterinarian. If your animal dies, have the body necropsied to determine the cause of death.
When You Suspect Malpractice
There are several steps you can take when you suspect that veterinary malpractice has led to your companion animal’s injury, sickness, or death.
First, send a concise, accurate, and factual written complaint (what happened, when, and where) to your state veterinary licensing board, asking for an investigation and response. Follow up your written complaint by telephoning the licensing board. You should also submit a complaint to your local veterinary medical association, asking for an investigation. (Any veterinary clinic should be able to provide you with addresses for the state licensing board and veterinary medical association, or look in the phone book under state agencies.) File copies of your complaints with the Better Business Bureau, local and state Consumer Affairs offices, and local SPCAs as well.
You can also file a small claims suit against the veterinarian by filling out a form and paying a small fee at your local courthouse. You are responsible for presenting your own case in small claims court, so be sure to have copies of all your animal’s medical records (including the results of the necropsy, if performed), statements from other veterinarians who examined your animal once you suspected negligence, and copies of your veterinary bills. Although small claims courts award only "out-of-pocket" expenses, the attention generated by your case may be enough to prevent a veterinarian from acting irresponsibly in the future.
You can also hire a lawyer and bring a malpractice lawsuit against the veterinarian or negotiate a settlement. As with a small claims suit, you will need documentation to back up your case, including statements from "expert witnesses" (such as veterinarians, pathologists, and others with special professional knowledge of the issues under consideration). Unfortunately, you may find that many lawyers hesitate to take on these cases because the potential for a large monetary award is low. In most veterinary malpractice cases, awards are limited to the costs incurred, plus the cost of replacing a companion animal with an animal of similar value. Some state courts, however, are beginning to acknowledge the unique nature of the bond shared by humans and their companion animals, and these courts also permit the recovery of "reasonable sentimental value" in some instances. California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey are among the states where recent veterinary negligence cases prompted judges and juries to assess the value of companion animals beyond their “property value.”
To find a good attorney, ask for a recommendation from the local bar association. Regardless of what action you decide to take, consider contacting local newspapers and television stations. Your story could help protect other animals from harm.
Animals have been seriously injured or killed at grooming salons. Some suffer from heat exhaustion as a result of being left unattended in front of dryers, and others are the victims of other types of neglect. In 2002, a chow was hanged to death at a Utah PETCO store when, left alone, she tried to jump out of a grooming tub.1
The best way to prevent accidents is by taking precautions and doing research. If you must leave your companion animal at a grooming salon, do the following things to ensure his or her safety:
Check to see whether the groomer you are considering is a member of any trade organizations. Although groomers are not required to be licensed, association with groups like the National Dog Groomers Association often indicates professionalism. Evidence of participation in industry seminars is also a good sign.
Find a groomer with experience. Groomers who have many years of experience in working with animals will be more confident in their skills and limitations and should be more comfortable with animal behavior. Any reputable grooming salon should have at least one veteran groomer on staff.
Request references from other clients.
Consider a groomer who makes house calls so that both your animal companion and the groomer are under your supervision.
Another option is to learn how to groom your animal friend yourself. Regular bathing, brushing, and clipping help you to build rapport and trust with your animal companion while keeping him or her looking and feeling healthy. A good grooming routine should include the following:
Brushing Brushing removes dirt and dead hair, stimulates circulation, distributes natural oils throughout the coat, and provides a fantastic bonding opportunity for you and your animal companion.
A thorough examination of the body and skin Regularly checking for lumps, parasites, wounds, and other abnormalities is a great way to catch potential medical problems before they become serious.
An inspection of the ears Check for unusual odors or inflamed skin, either of which could indicate the presence of infection or mites.
Toenail clipping Overgrown nails can lead to injuries of the foot-pad, walking difficulties, and elongated blood vessels in the nails. Your veterinarian can show you the proper way to trim nails. When trimming your companion’s nails, check for cuts or foreign matter between the toes.
Dental care Use toothpaste that is especially formulated for dogs and cats. If your companion doesn’t like you to use a toothbrush on his or her teeth, try wrapping some gauze around your finger instead.
Baths Depending on your animal friend’s breed and activities, baths may or may not be necessary. If you do bathe him or her, use lukewarm water, rinse well, and consider putting cotton in his or her ears to prevent water from getting in and promoting infection.
You can help prevent grooming accidents by contacting your local and state representatives and pushing for stronger regulations on the grooming industry. Laws that require that groomers use only dryers that must be reset after a period of time rather than those that reset without a break, laws that set time limits on tethering and standards on the types of tethers that may be used, and laws that prohibit the use of sedatives or tranquilizers are the type of legislation that can save lives and prevent tragic accidents.
If your animal becomes injured at a grooming salon, you can file a small claims suit or lawsuit against the groomer or salon, and remember that a story about your animal’s injuries on a local television station or in the newspaper can help prevent future tragedies. Public awareness is a powerful tool.
1)Tad Walch, “Woman’s Suit Against PETCO Seeks to Test Value of Pet’s Life,” The Daily Herald, 17 Nov. 2002.
You can improve the lives of dogs and cats suffering from cruelty and neglect.
Forward this to friends.