It’s painful to think about animal cruelty, but this crime is part of reality that animal lovers can’t afford to ignore. Even with the valiant efforts of police, shelters, and charities, many cases of animal abuse go undocumented. For this reason, it’s vital that each of us knows how to recognize animal cruelty, and what to do if we encounter it.
Speaking up can be intimidating, especially when the issue is close to your heart – that’s why we’re here to help. In this guide, we discuss some important animal cruelty statistics, definitions of abuse, and what you should do if you encounter animals being mistreated. Armed with this knowledge, we hope you’ll feel confident enough to speak out against animal abuse in your area.
Despite being a criminal offence in every state, animal cruelty is shockingly common, as the following statistics reveal.
- Dog cruelty is the most common type of animal abuse
Dogs are more likely to face abuse than any other domestic animal. In fact, 64% of the animal cruelty cases documented were committed against a dog.
Interestingly, some breeds are far more likely to experience abuse than others. One in four of every dog abuse case involves a pitbull, which has led certain countries, such as the UK, to ban ownership of the breed.
- Pet abuse is often linked to domestic violence
According to a report by the Humane Society, animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, compared to those who have never abused animals.
On top of this, around 75% of domestic violence victims reported that abusive partners had threatened or harmed family pets. In fact, over one million animals are killed each year in connection with domestic violence.
- Neglect is just as common as violence
When it comes to animal abuse, neglect is just as prevalent as physical violence. Many cases of neglect occur when owners cannot care for the animals they adopt – this includes cases of animal hoarding, which are surprisingly common in the USA.
Every year, up to 2,000 cases of animal hoarding are reported in the US, leading to over 250,000 abuse cases.
- Dog Fighting Remains a Prominent Issue
Although it’s illegal in every state, at least 40,000 people are involved in professional dog fighting in the US today. An additional 100,000 people are thought to be involved in amateur dog fighting. Between 2004 and 2008, over 1,000 arrests were made in relation to dog fighting in the US alone. Even more shocking, over 250,000 dogs were put in fighting pits in 2007.
Dog fighting is most prominent – or at least most reported – in Florida and California. This bloodsport is often linked to other criminal activities, such as drug distribution and racketeering.
In order to report animal abuse, we first need to recognize it. In US law, the definition of ‘animal cruelty’ varies from state to state, which can make recognizing abuse more challenging.
Wherever you are, though, the following signs are strong indicators that abuse is happening:
Physical Signs of Abuse Include
- Open, or multiple healed wounds on the animal’s body
- Collars that are too tight, causing sores or other harm
- Scaly skin, hair loss, bumps, or other signs of an untreated skin condition
- Infestation with ticks, fleas, or other parasites
- Matted hair, overgrown nails, or a dirty coat
- Limping, or the inability to properly walk
- Extreme drowsiness or confusion
- An owner beating or otherwise inflicting physical harm on an animal
Sings of Environmental Abuse Include
- Animals left without shelter for long periods of time
- Lack of access to food and water
- Unsanitary conditions
- Broken glass, or other harmful objects in the vicinity
- Animals tied up for long periods with little room for movement
- Animals kept in cages too small to allow normal movement
Signs of Dog Fighting
As mentioned earlier, dog fighting is a surprisingly common form of animal abuse. If a dog is being trained for fighting, you may notice:
- The dog is wearing heavy chains around its neck – a type of strength training
- A treadmill is present (a form of cardio fitness training)
- A catmill is present (dogs chase bait round a rotating pole for cardio exercise)
- A spring-pole is present (dogs are forced to dangle by their teeth from a piece of hide or rope to increase their jaw strength)
If you notice one or more of these signs, it’s definitely worth reporting abuse. If in doubt, speak to a shelter or animal charity – they will be familiar with animal abuse legislation in your area.
Tips for Reporting Abuse
If you encounter animal cruelty, follow these tips to ensure effective reporting. In the next section, we run through some organizations you can contact to file your report.
Gather the Right Information
To make an effective animal cruelty complaint, you should try your best to compile the following information:
- A concise written statement
It’s a good idea to prepare a written statement outlining the abuse you observed. Ideally, this should include the time, date, and precise location of the encounter. To make things easier on yourself, you may wish to write a note or record a voice memo shortly after the incident, to gather your thoughts accurately before making a report.
- Photographic evidence
If you can take photographs of the abused animals safely, without trespassing on private property, it’s a good idea to do so. These photographs will provide vital evidence if the case makes its way to court.
- Names and Contact Information
If you know who’s responsible for the abuse, providing their name and contact information when reporting the incident could prove invaluable. This information will help speed up the investigation process, and could result in faster relied for the animals in question.
Keep your Information Safe
Once you’ve compiled your evidence for the report, be sure to keep hold of copies for your own records. It’s also a good idea to make a note of which authority you contacted, and when, so you can answer any questions later on if need be.
Careful organization lends you credibility, which could make a huge difference if you choose to testify as an official witness later down the line.
Consider Anonymity with Care
When reporting animal cruelty, you may wish to remain anonymous – for a variety of reasons. Some cases of animal abuse, such as dog and cock fighting, are often tied to larger networks of organized crime, so revealing your identity is discouraged.
Nonetheless, if you feel safe enough to do so, providing your personal information makes the report more likely to be pursued. If the case goes to court, this also puts you in a good position to act as a credible witness.
Animal cruelty reports aren’t always at the top of the list for local police or government departments. When you first report the abuse, be sure to request a contact number and/or email address from the organization you spoke to. This ensures you can follow up on your report in a few weeks if you don’t hear anything. When you do follow up, be respectful – many local authorities operate with limited resources and personnel, and face many challenges.
If you are unsatisfied by how the police is handling the case, you may wish to contact an animal charity, such as the Humane Society of ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Sometimes, these charities can be given special permission to investigate abuse cases themselves, speeding along the process, and potentially saving an animal’s life. The ASPCA actually has its own Humane Law Enforcement division, dedicated to investigating animal abuse cases.
We all want to halt animal abuse, but remember to be mindful of your own safety when you encounter a mistreated animal. Abused animals may be nervous around humans, and they may become violent when approached as a defense mechanism. For this reason it’s a good idea to stand back when taking a photo or video of an abused animal.
If the animal is being kept in dangerous conditions, such as an unstable structure, you should also approach with caution. Whatever you do, be sure not to trespass on private property to gather your evidence – this could undermine your case, and put you at risk.
Consider Media Intervention
Most local media outlets have at least one investigative reporter, who can help you spread the word about local animal abuse. Drawing attention to the incident encourages local authorities and charities to intervene. Your report could also spur more witnesses to step forward, strengthening the case. By blowing the whistle on animal cruelty, you may even encourage others to learn the signs of abuse and take a stand when they witness it.
TV stations and newspapers generally have a hotline you can call, or email address you can contact. Different outlets have different priorities, and you may have to contact a few before your story is picked up.
Report Animal Cruelty Online, or in Film & Television
When animal cruelty is depicted online, it may be fake. However, if you stumble across apparently abusive images, it’s a good idea to investigate. You can use the site Who Is to find details about the site in question, including its IPS (Internet Service Provider).
Next, contact the ISP about the offensive material, including any screenshots you have taken as evidence. If the site is clearly displaying or promoting criminal offences, you may also wish to contact local authorities (local to the website’s registered origin).
Many viewers, along with the ASPCA, are concerned about depictions of violence towards animals on film and television. If a depiction offends you, you can contact the American Humane Association Movie and Television Unit. Actual abuse on screen is a crime, but fictionalized depictions may be protected constitutionally as free speech.
You can Report Pet Stores & Breeders as well as Individuals
Pet stores and breeders aren’t immune to animal cruelty, and reporting abuse is quite straightforward. Abusive pet stores or breeders may:
- Keep animals in cages that restrict their movement for long periods
- Provide animals with inadequate comfort and shelter
- Not keep animals fed and watered
- Be physically violent towards animals
- Pack too many animals into one small space
If in doubt, you can check the laws governing pet shops in your state here.
To report cruelty in pet stores, contact the USDA (details below). To support your statement, it’s a good idea to gather photographic or video evidence of the abuse you’re describing, and make a note of the store or breeder’s name and contact details.
Who to Contact
To make a report, you can contact one of the following animal cruelty numbers or websites:
- Your Local Police Department – Should you encounter animal cruelty, the local police should be your first port of call.
- ASPCA – If you’re calling from New York City, you can report abuse directly to the ASPCA by dialling 311.
- American Humane Society – The American Humane Society’s headquarters can be contacted on 1-800-227-4645.
- Local Shelters – Your local animal shelter can help remove pets from dangerous or abusive environments. You can find your nearest shelter, and their contact details using this search tool.
- Animal Charities – You can also report abuse to a nearby animal charity. This directory will help you find charities in your area.
- Animal Control – A local branch of animal control can also take action to rescue animals from abusive situations. Your operator will let you know how to call animal control anonymously.
- US Department of Agriculture – If you wish to make a report about cruelty in a pet store, contacting the USDA is a good option. They can be reached on (301) 851-3751.
- Dog Fighting Hotline – The Humane Society has a special hotline for reporting cases of dog fighting: 1-877-847-4787.