Nobody likes to see pets being neglected, mishandled or abused, but the unfortunate truth is that it happens a lot more than we’d like to think.
When it’s a neighbor, we are afforded a front-row seat to said mistreatment. But what can we do about it?
Laws about animal cruelty and even who handles such cases vary from state to state, making it difficult to know who to talk to or where to find answers. In addition, reporting a neighbor may have long-term repercussions by starting a feud. But the ultimate reality is that no animal deserves to be neglected or abused, and stopping that kind of thing is up to all of us.
What You Can Report
First, we need to know what kind of behavior is reportable versus behavior that is borderline or just not up to our own standards of gold star pet care.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS): “Animal cruelty can be either deliberate abuse or simply the failure to take care of an animal … Deliberate cruelty may involve beating, shooting or stabbing animals, or setting them on fire. Neglect is not giving an animal necessary food, water, shelter or vet care. Because their misery is often prolonged, animals who die of neglect can suffer just as much as animals who are deliberately harmed.”
As an example, if you have a neighbor who is constantly leaving their dog outside in all weather with no shelter, food or water, that is neglect and reportable. If you have a neighbor who puts their dog outside a lot but doesn’t leave them there for extended periods of time, that is not neglect.
It is important to note that both neglect and abuse are reportable issues because they negatively impact the well-being of the animals. A neighbor may not strike their dog, but if they are not providing adequate food, then the animal is starving to death.
Hoarding animals is defined by Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine as “the pathological accumulation of animals.”
An animal hoarder isn’t always a bad person; in fact, many are motivated by the desire to save animals and give them a home. The unfortunate reality is that having pets costs money, and some hoarders are not in a position where they can adequately provide for their many pets’ needs, which include food, veterinary care and reasonable standards of cleanliness.
Because hoarding is so often motivated by good intentions, people are unsure whether or not this is reportable. It is. There are several reasons we need to take action when we see a potential animal hoarder:
- Animals are unlikely to be receiving the proper veterinary care, leaving them vulnerable to diseases.
- Animals who frequently escape the hoarder’s property can become a public nuisance by tipping over trash barrels and fighting with neighboring pets.
- The hoarder may not be able to provide adequate nutrition for all of the animals, meaning some may be starving.
There have been several horror stories published about animals that have been hoarded, including this past August, when authorities stumbled across 2 hoarding situations within days of each other. One home had approximately 40 dogs, and another unrelated home had about 40 cats. In each case, the animals had gone without regular vaccinations — leaving them susceptible to rabies. Most animals had had no access to regular veterinary care at all, and some were in desperate need of grooming and dental work. In short, the intentions of each caregiver were good, but the animals were suffering.
You may feel bad for reporting a neighbor for hoarding, but it really is in the best interests of the animals in question.
Take a look at this harrowing hoarder situation:
What to Do
If you think your neighbor may be mistreating their animals, address the issue. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has this helpful advice: “Find out who is responsible for investigating and enforcing the anti-cruelty codes in your town, county and/or state, such as your local humane organization, animal control agency, taxpayer-funded animal shelter or police precinct. … call or visit your local police department or your local shelter or animal control agency for assistance.”
The ASPCA goes on to state what information is best to have on hand:
- A concise, written, factual statement of what you observed — giving dates and approximate times whenever possible — to provide to law enforcement.
- Photographs of the location, the animals in question and the surrounding area. Note: Do not put yourself in danger! Do not enter another person’s property without permission, and exercise great caution around unfamiliar animals who may be frightened or in pain.
- If you can, provide law enforcement with the names and contact information of other people who have firsthand information about the abusive situation.
- It is possible to file an anonymous report, but please consider providing your information. The case is more likely to be pursued when there are credible witnesses willing to stand behind the report and, if necessary, testify in court.
Most towns have an animal control officer within their police departments. This is an excellent point of contact because they will be well versed in what is legal and humane — and what is not.
If you are uncomfortable talking to the animal control officer, you can start with your local animal shelter. Stop by or give them a call and ask their advice. These people see cases ranging from simple neglect to utter cruelty and everything in between, so they will be an excellent source of information for you. They will also know who you should contact for an immediate response if the neglect or abuse is severe.
Animals have no voice to speak for themselves. It is up to us to keep a watchful eye out for not just our pets but also for all pets. By reporting a neglectful or abusive neighbor, you could be preventing more abuse from taking place, stopping an unsocialized dog from escaping and mauling a person, ensuring animals find homes that can adequately provide for their needs and even shut down puppy mills.
We’re all in this together, so keep your eyes open and be the voice our pets need.
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