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How to Prevent & Report Animal Abuse

Instructor: Taormina Lepore

Taormina has taught advanced high school biology, is a science museum educator, and has a Master's degree in museum paleontology.

Animal abuse is a heartbreaking reality in many countries. In this lesson, we'll discuss how you can help prevent it, and how to report just such abuse to the proper authorities.

Animal Abuse: A Growing Problem

Each year millions of animals are abused, neglected, or abandoned. This heartbreaking problem is not isolated to any one nation or group of people. In the United States, where an animal is estimated to be abused every 60 seconds, the FBI has only recently created a specific category for animal abuse cases, with tracking estimated to begin in 2016.

So what can you do to help?

Definitions

First let's get some terms straight:

  • Abuse is the intentional harm of an animal
  • Neglect is the intentional mistreatment of an animal through withholding food, water, shelter, or other care
  • Abandonment is the intentional leaving of an animal to fend for itself, without a permanent home.

A pitbull being mistreated with a leather strap, seen at the foreground.
animal abuse

Other forms of animal abuse include organized abuse, often centered around gambling, such as dog fighting and cock fighting. Even animals that are bred for strenuous labor, such as work horses, can be overworked or otherwise abused.

Fortunately, several national and worldwide organizations exist to help educate the general public on how to prevent and report animal abuse. Let's talk about some of the ways they do this and how you can get involved.

How to Prevent Animal Abuse

Education

Prevention begins with education. Sometimes, people who abuse, neglect, or abandon animals have no clear idea they are doing something wrong. The potential abuser may have a mental illness, or they may not be aware of certain dangers. For example, even well-meaning pet owners may not know that that animals need shelter from the elements, need collar replacements as they grow larger, or that leaving a pet in a car on a warm day can kill the animal in a very short time.

Education teaches us how to evaluate the potential abuse situation, and of course, know when emergency action is warranted.

Many local humane societies and animal shelters offer outreach education to their communities, helping people understand that their pets and other domesticated animals have certain needs: food, water, shelter, and humane treatment. Sometimes, nationwide initiatives are put in place to help raise awareness, such as national awareness months (April is 'Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month' in the US), or on stamps.

This German stamp reads, Protect the Animals.
animal protection stamp

General awareness of pet health and safety can be spread through:

  • leading informal topic discussions at your work, community group, or school.
  • representatives from a humane society giving lectures distributing pamphlets.
  • volunteering at a local shelter to educate yourself on the various needs of neglected and abused animals.

Evaluate

If you aren't sure whether or not an animal is being abused or neglected, or whether you have encountered an abandoned pet, don't jump in and call the police right away. First make sure to safely observe the situation at different times of day, and look for a few key signs.

  • Is the animal left out to the elements with no shelter?
  • Does it appear to be injured, its hair matted, or its skin flea-bitten?
  • Is the animal obviously starved for food or lacking proper nutrition?
  • Have you witnessed physical abuse of an animal?

These warning signs should raise some flags. Remember that an authority can always make the final call if you aren't sure.

Emergencies

When an animal is obviously injured, gravely ill, or in pain, contact your local authorities. The local police, animal shelter, animal control, or humane society will know how to properly handle the situation and care for the animal. Never put yourself in harm's way or confront an animal's owner in anger.

How to Report Animal Abuse

Document

If you're reasonably sure an animal is being abused, neglected, or has been abandoned, try to document as much as you safely can. Photos and written information, such as time spent outside without food and so on, can help process the case in a court of law.

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