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Animal cruelty is when abuse or neglect is happening at the hands of a human caretaker or others; a person commits an offense of cruelty to animals when a person’s actions causes death, physical pain, or horrible suffering to any animal. Such actions can be either deliberate abuse (on purpose), the failure to take care of an animal due to a lack of knowledge, or willful neglect, which means the intentional withholding of basic necessities like food and water that leads to the starvation or dehydration of an animal. The cruelty victim, whether a companion pet, farm animal, or wildlife, can end up suffering a great deal and for a long time.

Unfortunately, incidents of animal cruelty may go unreported because of a lack of understanding of what constitutes animal cruelty, different interpretations of what is considered abuse or neglect, and confusion about which agency should be notified when terrible acts against animals are witnessed. According to The Humane Society, “every state has laws prohibiting animal cruelty, and 49 of them contain felony provisions. (South Dakota is the only hold-out.)” Animals rely on you to help protect them from their abusers by reporting incidents to the proper authorities.

There are signs to look for when identifying animal abuse and neglect, and while all around cruel, some of these signs can be difficult to conclude as an act of cruelty according to law. Let us all take action against animal cruelty!

Identifying Animal Abuse and Neglect

  • Someone kicking, beating, or otherwise physically harming an animal
  • Injuries that are starting to heal, but also has a new injury
  • There are multiple pets in the household with injuries
  • Collar too tight, causing pain, injury, strangulation, and even death
  • Open wounds or other injuries that obviously have not been treated
  • No regular access to fresh food and water
  • Pets tied up alone outside for long periods of time away from food and water
  • Serious lack of grooming — unmanageable fur matting, overgrown coat and nails, visibly untreated sores
  • A pet or farm animal that does not have protection against outdoor elements
  • Lack of sanitation with feces and debris covering an animal’s living area
  • Abandoned homes have pets or animals left tied to posts
  • Fur is infested with ticks, fleas, or other bugs or parasites
  • Visible bones and extreme thinness can mean emaciation and starvation
  • Weakness paired with the inability to walk normally or even sit up
  • Animals that are crowded together into dirty kennels or cages
  • Animal in filthy, dangerous hoarding situations

“Reporting suspected animal cruelty ensures that animals in jeopardy receive prompt and often lifesaving care,” says ASPCA Special Agent Joann Sandano. “By making a complaint to the police or humane society in your area—you can even do so anonymously—you help ensure that animals in need are rescued and that perpetrators of animal cruelty are brought to justice.”

Taking Action

  • Document witnessed animal cruelty with notes, video, or photos
  • Report cruelty to animal control even if you have not witnessed but suspect it
  • Always be prepared with your local animal control department, animal shelter, or humane society’s number
  • Find local hotlines to help animals in need at TinyRescue, which lists national, state, local animal cruelty, and fighting hotlines
  • Speak with an expert from your local humane society or SPCA about the suspected abuse
  • Learn more about reporting animal cruelty from the ASPCA here
  • Through social media, help others become aware of animal cruelty
  • Raise awareness in your community by hosting an educational event
  • Start your own animal welfare organization, such as a rescue, to ensure animals are kept out of abusive situations

Law enforcement and animal control departments highly advise against citizens taking matters into their own hands. As much as it angers you to see an animal being abused or neglected, you could end up putting yourself in a dangerous situation when confronting an animal abuser or trespassing onto someone else’s property to rescue an animal.

It can take more than reporting animal abuse to the authorities, so to help in prosecuting the abuser, the best thing you can do is document the details, dates, and times of any incidents and contact animal control immediately.

Image source: BLM Nevada / Flickr

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12 comments on “How to Identify Animal Abuse and Neglect and What to Do If You Suspect Cruelty”

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David C
4 Years Ago

Thank you for this! Animal Help Now is a website and phone app (search stores for animalhelpnow) that people can use to find the closest law enforcement and animal control. Currently serves Colorado and Texas.

Kelli Murphy
4 Years Ago

Makes me cry...and get so angry!

Daisy Salcedo
4 Years Ago

omg yes!!

Maudy Oltmans
4 Years Ago

OMG :(

Stephanie Huot
4 Years Ago

If I saw this horse I would cry ....then I would make sure to help it

Mary Anne Gardner
4 Years Ago

Don't look the other way, the horses are look for your help!

Jutta Schmitt
4 Years Ago

I will report it, report it and report it again until something is done about it!!! I will not rest until I see results.

EARTH The Mother Ship
4 Years Ago


Tony Peter Bennett
4 Years Ago

So sad

Trish Barley Merkel
4 Years Ago



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