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How to Help a Neglected or Abused Pet

Step 1: Evaluate the Situation

Many times what appears to be neglect seen from over the neighborís fence is simply misinterpreted. If you believe the dog is not being fed, or left for hours without water, or has no way to get out of the rain, sun, or wind, look more closely during different times of the day to be sure.

Sometimes the food and water bowls are kept inside an animalís shelter to keep them away from bugs or to prevent them from freezing. Maybe the owner feeds the dog every day before he goes to work at 3 am when youíre asleep, and then takes the bowl back inside. Maybe the petís shelter is a cleverly disguised dog door into the shed or garage. Perhaps the dog just prefers to be outside no matter what the weather, so you never see him go inside.

If you discover, however, the animal has inadequate shelter from the weather, or doesnít get fed every day, or doesnít always have water in his bowl, you can be sure this animal is being neglected and needs help. Other examples of neglect include...

Abuse, on the other hand, is more immediately recognizable. Choking, setting tails on fire, putting rubber bands around limbs or tails, dunking heads under water, kicking, hitting repeatedlyóthese are definite acts of abuse.

If you see such a thing, youíll probably be outraged and want to bolt outside to confront the abuser. Avoid that impulse, unless youíre positive that a friendly, informal chat will make that person more caring toward his pet. On the other hand, if you can safely take photos or video the incident, do so. This inarguable evidence is invaluable to investigators.

In the case of a child abusing an animal, the parent may simply be unaware of the behavior. But because animal abuse has been linked with other types of abuse in the homeónamely child abuseóitís often better to let a humane officer investigate. A uniform can command a lot more respect and attention than a good neighbor or friend, and without resulting in a defensive barrier. Plus many humane officers are trained by the American Humane Association to recognize and report child abuse.

Step 2: Report It

If you witness neglect or abuse, report it to your local humane officer. A humane officer can be anyone in your area who investigates animal cruelty, such as the humane societyís investigator or your cityís animal control officer.

If the humane officer agrees that thereís the possibility of neglect or abuse, he or she will investigate. If youíre worried about being blamed for meddling or about any retaliation against you, tell the humane officer that you wish to remain anonymous.

The humane officer will visit the home and determine the action needed to alleviate the animalís suffering. Usually neglect is caused by owners not understanding their petís needs, so humane officers spend 90 percent of their time explaining how to correctly care for pets. Some owners, however, neglect their pets because they simply donít care. When confronted by a humane officer, these owners may decide to relinquish the animals rather than being bothered with properly caring for them.

If the pet is seriously unhealthy or obviously abused, the humane officer may remove the animal to protective care while she investigates. You can help the officer by offering to alert her if the owner gets another pet. Or if charges are brought against the owner, you can offer to testify or sign a complaint, since neglect is difficult to prove. And in the case of violent abuse, witnesses are rare, so you may be the only person who can testify about the incident.

Humane officers try to respond quickly to a complaint, but because of the number of calls they receive daily, they canít always leave their desk the moment you call. If youíre concerned for the petís immediate safety, tell the officer. Donít attempt to remove a pet from a potentially abusive or neglectful environment yourself. Not only is this illegal, but you havenít stopped the owner from getting another pet to abuse or helped turn him into a caring, responsible owner.

Step 3: Understand the Law

In most states, the anti-cruelty laws are pretty vague. They may require adequate shelter, but not be specific about what "adequate" shelter is, so the definition is often left up to the district attorney who may know very little about animals.

The humane officer should be familiar with the local and state laws on animal cruelty. While you may think heís moving slowly on a case, weak animal anti-cruelty laws can slow down and hamper his investigations. However, very few states give humane officers any more legal rights than you have. Just like you, they may be ordered off someoneís property and charged with trespassing. They can also get sued for libel and slander just like you, which doesnít save the pet and jeopardizes the officerís organization as well.

Fortunately, society has begun to recognize animal abuse as part of the cycle of violence and is calling for stronger penalties against abusers and more powerful enforcement capabilities. As a result, many states have added felony penalties to their anti-cruelty laws, and animal cruelty investigators are being given peace officer status.

If you have any doubts about how the case will progress through your legal system, talk to the humane officer or read the laws yourself. Call the district attorney and find out the definition of words like "adequate" so you can better understand how your state laws protect animals.

Step 4: Help Prevent It

The key to preventing neglect is education. Many owners just arenít aware of how important affection is to a pet or even that a puppy can outgrow her collar.

The key to preventing abuse is stronger anti-cruelty lawsólaws that empower effective enforcement and include harsh penalties. Serious penalties can inhibit cruelty, and with the addition of counseling as a penalty, can stop the incidents from being repeated by offenders.

You can help prevent these cruel acts by informing others about what to do if they see such an act or helping them to better understand how to train and care for their pets.

To do this you can:

Schedule a speaker from your local humane agency to talk at your church or any clubs you belong to. Do the same for any childrenís groups, like scout groups, day-care centers, and schools.

Set up a brown-bag lecture series at your office, conducted by a humane agency, on pet care, basic behavior solutions, and animal welfare issues.

Get pet care and behavior pamphlets from your humane agency to distribute to any of your coworkers or friends with new pets.

Put together packets of treats and a pet-care book or video to give to friends whoíve just gotten a new pet. Include spay/neuter information, tags, and a vaccination record book. Obedience lessons make a great gift for a new puppy.

Support any initiatives to strengthen your stateís anti-cruelty laws.

Write to your paper and TV station whenever animal cruelty stories appear. Tell them you support strong penalties for these abusers.

Contribute to or volunteer at your local shelter, where they must deal with these appalling situations regularly.

Now when you see a neglected or abused animal, you can take action. Donít hesitate. Your call could save a life.

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Neglect Comes in Many Forms




Not increasing the size of the collar as the dog or
cat grows results in this type of injury, and
ultimately death if not dealt with.





Not grooming a dog or cat, especially long-haired
ones, leads to massive matting which causes terrible
misery and sores






Mange, caused by tiny parasites, forces pets to
suffer from horrendous itching, loss of hair, and
possibly sores caused by the scratching and
biting of the pet to relieve the incessant irritation.
It is easily treated with medicated bathes.





Starvation is not just caused by lack of food, but by
improper food, untreated disease, and parasites (like





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Last modified: June 20, 2017