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Reporting Animal Cruelty in Your Community

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What Constitutes Animal Cruelty?

Killing or harming someone else's companion animal and failing to provide necessary food, water, shelter or medical attention for your own pet can be considered animal cruelty. In some communities, acts such as leaving an animal confined in a hot vehicle and using a chain or tie-out to restrict a companion animal's movement are prohibited. A wide variety of animal-related laws and legislation are enacted at the international, federal, state, county and municipal levels.

Why is Reporting Animal Cruelty Important?

Some people do not want to report animal cruelty because they do not realize that the action is a crime or they are afraid to report cruelty committed by a friend or neighbor. However, reports often can be made anonymously.

Here are just a few reasons why reporting animal cruelty is important:

  • To help an animal at risk
  • To alert law enforcement agencies to crimes that may otherwise go uninvestigated
  • To document a pattern of behavior for repeat offenders
  • To prevent future violence to animals and to people.

Studies have shown strong links between animal cruelty and domestic violence, child abuse and violent crimes.

Whom Should You Call?

Nonprofit animal advocacy groups sometimes even local humane societies often do not have the legal authority to respond to or investigate cruelty complaints. It is important to call the appropriate agencies so your report is investigated.

In most areas, the local police or sheriff's departments and animal control agencies handle animal cruelty complaints that involve domestic companion animals. Each community handles animal cruelty reporting differently, so you may be asked to make several calls. Reporting suspected cruelty to livestock and wildlife may entail contacting the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or your state’s Game & Fish Department.

If the situation is an emergency, or if a crime is in progress, dial 9-1-1. Keep in mind that many emergency departments often don’t consider a situation an emergency unless there is a direct threat to humans. For all other reports, you can call the law enforcement and animal control non-emergency numbers.

If you wish to make an anonymous report and you do not need immediate assistance, consider calling 88-CRIME or your local animal cruelty task force, if there is one. Some communities also have citizens advisory groups that meet regularly to monitor government agencies, such as animal control and the police department.

General Guidelines for Reporting Animal Cruelty

Follow these steps to report animal cruelty:

  1. Find out what federal, state, county and municipal laws apply to animals in your community.
  2. Identify the appropriate agency to call in your community and keep the contact number(s) handy by the phone or on your refrigerator.
  3. Always document the names, titles and extension numbers of the people you talk to, as well as the dates and times of your calls.
  4. Ask for a case number to document that your report was in fact recorded.
  5. Request a copy of the report for your records. You may need to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain government documents.
  6. Follow up on your report with the agency involved.
  7. If the matter was not resolved to your satisfaction, consider contacting a citizens advisory group or the person that is charged with oversight of the agency you made your report to.
  8. Consider contacting your elected officials and the media if your report goes uninvestigated.

For More Information

The Humane Society of the United States has a fact sheet about reporting animal cruelty available.

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