What to Do if You Suspect Pet Abuse

Animal cruelty happens every day. So often, in fact, that only the more sensationalistic stories about animal abuse make national headlines:

Many people question whether they should get involved. Some people feel it is none of their business, or they may worry they are misinterpreting the signs. They may also fear retribution, either physical or legal (being sued if the allegation is incorrect).

Unfortunately, the abuse will likely grow worse over time. The American Psychological Association has noted that animal cruelty is often a symptom of behavioral problem in children. As they grow older, these abusers often turn on people as well as continue their pattern of animal abuse.

In fact, animal abuse is an indicator of child abuse. Pets are abused in 88 percent of the families where children are abused, according to an article in Humane Education News. A separate study by Northeastern University tracked 153 animal abusers over 10 years, from 1986 to 1996. The study noted that 70 percent of these people went on to commit other crimes, many of them violent.

What Are the Signs?

There is a difference between unintentional or intentional neglect and outright abuse. Unintentional neglect includes not being aware of how to take care of a pet:

Intentional neglect is just that – the owner purposefully doesn't feed or water the animal; leaves the pet outside in harsh weather; and/or forces the pet to live in dangerous, unsanitary conditions.

Abuse is much easier to identify: choking, beating, kicking, forcing an animal's head under water, etc.

What Should You Do

1. First assess the situation. If the animal appears neglected, you may in fact not be seeing the times when the animal is fed, groomed and watered. The American Humane Association recommends that you observe the pet at different times of the day before taking the next step.

2. If you see outright abuse or neglect, resist the impulse to confront the owner. This is for your safety and in the pet's long-term interest. Call your local humane officer or police department.

3. If possible, videotape or photograph the neglect or abuse. In cases of neglect, many of the situations are caused by simple ignorance. Abused pets, however, may be taken away by the city or county for their own safety. The owner may try to get another pet – if this happens, contact the police or humane officer immediately.

The Problem of Animal Collectors

Multiple-pet households brings up the problem of animal collectors. Many of these people appear to "love" animals; they often claim they are rescuing animals from euthanasia. But in fact they are addicted to collecting animals that they cannot properly feed, maintain or house.

Because it is a symptom of a disorder, animal collectors are often unaware of the suffering they cause animals, and they deny reality; they will insist ill animals are healthy. Collectors often know how to elicit public sympathy – even to the point of getting public funds.

Here are some of the things to look out for:

Again, you should contact your local humane officer or police department if you suspect abuse or neglect. To learn more about animal abuse, and what you can do, visit the Humane Society of the United States First Strike Web page at www.hsus.org/firststrike.