It often seems like there should be a clear-cut solution when we read about animal abuse cases online or hear about them in the news. If someone reported abuse, why wouldn’t that person step up to testify? Or if an animal was found alone, doesn’t anyone recognize it?
Unfortunately, there are often a lot of factors that can make it hard to be brave and intervene in cases of animal cruelty. Perhaps the abusive person is dangerous or involved in criminal activity. Maybe it’s a neighbor that you will potentially have to live next to for years to come. It could even be someone in your own family.
It’s always hard to know what another person’s situation is, and it’s even harder to know how you will react in the “heat of the moment.” We may think we know what we would do if we encountered abuse, but that’s not often the case. Sometimes we freeze or can’t think of the best thing to do, and those are normal responses.
Here are nine ways to get involved that can stop animal abuse — and save the animal’s life.
1. Contact your local precinct.
The first thing you can try to do is file a police report. Gather as much information as possible — including where the dog lives, the owner’s name, where you saw the abuse, and what happened — before getting in touch. It’s best to speak with someone in an animal cruelty field if possible, even Animal Control.
However, depending on where you live and the situation, know that these cases aren’t always taken as seriously as they should be. You may have to reach out several times through different channels and follow up before it is investigated.
2. Contact the SPCA or Humane Society.
The next groups you can contact are the ASPCA or the Humane Society. Police officers may even instruct you to reach out to these groups instead of filing a report. (And in turn, the ASPCA or Humane Society may direct you to file a report with the police, and back and forth — a very frustrating loop.) Be persistent with following up, but realize that these are very large organizations that deal with probably hundreds or even thousands of complaints each week and they might not be able to respond to each individually.
3. Contact a local rescue organization.
If you’re getting the runaround from law enforcement and larger rescue organizations, try reaching out to a local rescue for help. Many of these rescues deal with abuse on a regular basis and have personal contact information for animal cruelty divisions.
They are also skilled in speaking with owners, knowing the laws, and intervening to save animals. Rescue organizations are excellent resources for helping get animals out of abusive or neglectful situations.
4. Say something to the owner.
Keep your own safety in mind: if the person hurting their animal isn’t someone that you know, or is someone that you think might hurt you, don’t do anything that could put your own safety at risk. If it is someone that you know and feel safe speaking with, by all means — do so! Not saying something is just as harmful as the abuse itself, so whether it be to the owner or law enforcement — make sure you don’t stand by and do nothing.
5. Report tips anonymously.
Just as with human cases, you have the option to report tips on animal abuse anonymously. There is a chance that it could be taken less seriously if police don’t have a valid witness or evidence to enforce the case, but an anonymous report is better than no report.
6. Screenshot online evidence.
It’s hard to know the best thing to do when you see something as emotionally difficult as animal abuse. Knowing what to do in advance can help you respond. If you see animal abuse online, such as on Craigslist or Facebook, screenshot the evidence. Posts can easily be taken down and can be difficult to find again, but if you screenshot the evidence, you will have it on hand if you make a report.
7. Take video!
Animal cruelty officers often need evidence to be able to investigate — otherwise their hands are tied. The best type of evidence you can give them is video evidence.
Pictures are good, but they don’t always prove an act of abuse as clearly as video does. Whenever possible, film what is going on and hand that video over to authorities.
8. Offer to buy the animal.
Some abusive owners are willing to give their pet to you if you offer to pay them for it. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, but this will depend on the owner. The downside to this method is that it doesn’t prevent them from getting another pet afterward, but it could save this pet’s life.
We never recommend stealing an animal — first and foremost because it is an illegal act. Secondly, if someone is abusing an animal, it needs to go through the proper channels if there’s any hope that the person will be caught, penalized, and/or barred from getting more animals. Lastly, animals that have been abused may have more aggressive tendencies that need to be handled professionally.
9. Post the case on social media or reach out to a local news team.
If all other options have failed, you can opt to put evidence on social media or reach out to a local news outlet in the hopes that it will gain more attention or go viral. Viral messages save lives and can pressure law enforcement into taking the case more seriously. You may even be surprised how many more people come forward to tell you they know about what is going on as well.
One thing to consider before doing this is that the evidence will be linked to your name. If there is any worry about threats or owners coming after you, set up an anonymous page on Facebook that cannot be traced back to you and manage it from there.
If you know of abuse happening, we hope this inspires you to step forward and tell someone. We also hope it helps people understand that reporting animal abuse isn’t always as simple as it may seem.
Animal abusers are violent people that you need to be careful around. Putting yourself in harm’s way isn’t going to help the animal if something terrible happens to you — but there are safer ways to intervene that could potentially save an animal’s life.