Report Animal Cruelty:
The Arizona Humane Society handles animal abuse cases in PHOENIX and SCOTTSDALE ONLY. To report abuse in other areas. If this is an emergency, please CALL 602-997-7585 ext. 2073.
How to Recognize Cruelty (from the ASPCA website)
Signs That an Animal Might Be Abused
Recognizing cruelty is simple, right? Not quite, say ASPCA experts. Aggressive, timid or fearful behavior doesn't always tell the whole story. Animals may appear to be timid or frightened for many reasons other than abuse.
“It’s almost impossible to make conclusions based on a pet’s behavior alone,” says the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center’s Kristen Collins, CPDT. “The best way to tell whether a pet is being or has been abused is to examine him and his surrounding environment.”
Check out our list of signs that may alert you an animal needs help:
Collar so tight that it has caused a neck wound or has become embedded in the pet’s neck
Open wounds, signs of multiple healed wounds or an ongoing injury or illness that isn’t being treated
Untreated skin conditions that have caused loss of hair, scaly skin, bumps or rashes
Extreme thinness or emaciation—bones may be visible
Fur infested with fleas, ticks or other parasites
Patches of bumpy, scaly skin rashes
Signs of inadequate grooming, such as extreme matting of fur, overgrown nails and dirty coat
Weakness, limping or the inability to stand or walk normally
Heavy discharge from eyes or nose
An owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal
Visible signs of confusion or extreme drowsiness
Pets are tied up alone outside for long periods of time without adequate food or water, or with food or water that is unsanitary
Pets are kept outside in inclement weather without access to adequate shelter
Pets are kept in an area littered with feces, garbage, broken glass or other objects that could harm them
Animals are housed in kennels or cages (very often crowded in with other animals) that are too small to allow them to stand, turn around and make normal movements possibly with too many other animals“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.”
Reporting Cruelty FAQ
Without phone calls from the concerned citizens who report cruelty in their neighborhoods, we wouldn't know about most instances of animal abuse," says ASPCA Supervisory Special Investigator Annemarie Lucas, whom you may have seen in action on Animal Planet's Animal Precinct.
Do you know where and how to report cruelty in your town? Our FAQ provides information on recognizing and reporting animal cruelty, as well as cruelty laws and how to talk to children about this important issue.
Recognizing Animal Cruelty
What constitutes animal cruelty?
Animal cruelty occurs when someone intentionally injures or harms an animal or when a person willfully deprives an animal of food, water or necessary medical care. Here are some signs that may indicate abuse or neglect:
Tick or flea infestations
Wounds on the body
Patches of missing hair
Extremely thin, starving animal
An owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal
Dogs who are repeatedly left alone without food and water, and often chained in a yard
Dogs who have been hit by cars—or are showing any of the signs listed here—and have not been taken to a veterinarian
Dogs who are kept outside without shelter in extreme weather conditions
Animals who cower in fear or act aggressively when approached by their ownersWhat constitutes federal cruelty to animals?
There is no federal cruelty law—and technically, there cannot be. Animal cruelty is dealt with on the state level because the United States Constitution limits the areas in which Congress can pass federal laws applicable nationwide (Article 1, Section 8), and instructs that everything else is up to individual states to handle. However, there are some federal laws to regulate specific activities that affect animals. For example, the Animal Welfare Act regulates the sale, handling and transport of certain animals. The U.S. Congress' broadest Constitutional power is over activities that impact or affect international and interstate commerce. Acts of animal cruelty typically occur in a fixed place, and probably cannot be interpreted to impact interstate commerce—not yet, anyway—so the federal government has no jurisdiction over them. The flip side of this is animal fighting ventures, which do sometimes involve movement between states. Therefore, because can it involve interstate commerce, there are federal laws addressing animal fighting and outlining penalties. One such law is 2007's Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act.
Why is it important to report animal cruelty?
The ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement department finds out about most instances of animal abuse in New York through phone calls from concerned citizens who witness cruelty in their neighborhoods. Without tips from the public, many animals would remain in abusive circumstances, mute and unable to defend themselves. It all starts with you—that's why it's so important to learn how to recognize and report crimes against animals.
There's an animal in my community who isn't being cared for properly—is that cruelty?
Yes, it is. You don't have to hit an animal to be cruel to him—depriving an animal of food, water or necessary medical care is neglect, which is a form of cruelty.
There are two general categories of animal neglect: simple neglect and gross, willful, cruel or malicious neglect. Simple neglect (failure to provide basic needs) is not always considered a criminal act, and can often be resolved by the intervention of local animal care and control or humane agencies, which may be able to offer resources and educate offenders on how to provide proper care for their animals. However, a growing number of states make a distinction between simply failing to take adequate care of animals and intentionally or knowingly withholding sustenance. Accordingly, "willful" neglect is considered a more serious, often prosecutable offense.
Neglect can also be an indicator of "animal hoarding," the accumulation of large numbers of animals in extremely unsanitary conditions, often resulting in the death of many animals and potentially serious health consequences for the people who are living with them. In many cases, individuals charged with animal abuse and neglect in hoarding situations have been found to have children or dependent adults living in the same conditions as the animals who are suffering.
Laws About Animal Cruelty
Will someone who is found guilty of animal cruelty go to jail?
Some will and some will not—the penalties for animal cruelty vary widely from state to state, and they also depend on the exact charges, the heinousness of the crime and on the perpetrator's criminal record.
Felonies almost always carry stronger penalties than misdemeanors, which rarely involve a jail sentence. Whether a particular criminal act is considered a felony or a misdemeanor can vary from state to state, and the federal government has its own definitions as well.
Sometimes, repetition of a misdemeanor-level crime can lead to a felony-level charge—meaning that a subsequent offense of a crime a person has been convicted of in the past will be considered a felony, and not a misdemeanor. This is not true of all laws, however, or of all states. In Colorado, for instance, a person's first conviction for animal cruelty is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, but a second or subsequent conviction for animal cruelty is a Class 6 Felony.
Are veterinarians obligated by law to report suspicions that an animal patient is a victim of cruelty at home?
Eleven states currently mandate that veterinarians report suspicions of animal cruelty, including suspected dog fighting activity, to the appropriate authorities. Many other states encourage veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty by granting civil immunity to those who make good-faith reports to the appropriate agencies. Such reporting is supported by professional veterinary organizations including the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The AAHA position statement on reporting, revised in 2003, states:
"Since veterinarians have a responsibility to the welfare of animals and the public and can be the first to detect animal abuse in a family, they should take an active role in detecting, preventing and reporting animal abuse. While some states and provinces do not require veterinarians to report animal abuse, the association supports the adoption of laws requiring, under certain circumstances, veterinarians to report suspected cases of animal abuse. Reporting should only be required when client education has failed, when there is no likelihood that client education will be successful, or in situations in which immediate intervention is indicated and only when the law exempts veterinarians from civil and criminal liability for reporting."
Someone in my neighborhood is threatening to harm my pet, but they haven't done anything yet. What can I do to protect my pet from this person?
If you feel that your pet is in danger, do whatever you can to shield him or her from harm—for instance, bring your outdoor cat inside and always accompany your dog outside, keeping him on a leash at all times.
You should also file a complaint with your local police; depending on the law where you live, verbal or written threats may constitute criminal harassment. Be sure to keep any tangible evidence of threats against your pets and yourself. If the threats are serious enough, you may be able to get a restraining order against the person making them. If this is the route you wish to go, enlist the aid of a lawyer. Above all, please be careful.
Why doesn't my community have animal cops like the ASPCA's Humane Law Enforcement agents? How can we get animal cops where I live?
Establishing a dedicated squad of animal cruelty officers with investigatory and arrest powers, like the ASPCA's HLE agents in New York, requires changes to a state's statute. This is extremely difficult to achieve. The next best thing you can do to make sure that complaints of animal cruelty are answered is to work with your community's current police officers, who already have the power to enforce all of your state's laws—including animal cruelty laws. Police are paid with tax dollars—you have the right to be the proverbial "squeaky wheel" and make sure that they are willing and able to respond to cruelty.
One idea is to lobby your police department to implement a plan similar to the one used by the police force of Granite City, IL. The Granite City Police Department asked for existing officers who liked animals to volunteer to be regular responders to animal- and cruelty-related complaints and 911 emergencies. At the department's request, educators from the ASPCA gave these officers on-site training to prepare them for the unique demands of this specialized form of law enforcement. The Granite City P.D. then made sure to arrange work schedules so that at least one of these officers would be working every shift. The result is that there is always a police officer on duty who is qualified to handle animal cruelty cases.
If you have questions about on-site training for law enforcement, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; don't forget to include your location. The ASPCA also offers a free online training course, "Investigating Animal Abuse for Law Enforcement," for police and animal control officers. It covers such vital topics as animal abuse and community policing, evidence collection and preservation, and officer safety. To learn more, please contact us.
How do I find out what agencies are authorized to investigate and arrest instances of animal cruelty in my state?
To find out if there is an agency other than the police authorized to conduct cruelty investigations in your area, visit our state-by-state list of anti-cruelty investigatory-arrest powers.
Where do I report cruelty to horses at a racetrack?
Racetracks are an exception to the investigatory and arrest powers of ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement. The ASPCA's Humane Law Enforcement officers have no jurisdiction at racetracks and normally are not even allowed to enter the grounds. In New York State, cruelty to horses witnessed at racetracks must instead be reported to the New York Racing Association (NYRA), which has its own policelike division in charge of investigating cruelty complaints.
However, investigatory jurisdiction may not be distributed this way in your state. To find out who has the power to investigate cruelty at horse racetracks where you live—as well as at dog tracks, if applicable—your first call should be to whichever agency is endowed with general animal cruelty investigatory and arrest powers. If you are not sure what agency that is, visit our list of anti-cruelty investigatory-arrest powers by state.
You may also wish to directly contact your state's racing and/or wagering bureau (the equivalent of the NYRA in New York) to find out who has jurisdiction at racetracks. Since state racing agencies typically are headed by governor-appointees, your governor's office should be able to steer you in the right direction if you are unsure whom to contact.
Where can I report offensive depictions of animal cruelty in television and film?
The ASPCA shares your concern about the media's depiction of violence and cruelty toward animals for entertainment purposes. Please know, however, that many of these instances are constitutionally protected free speech—and may not even involve a real animal.
If you are offended by something you viewed, we suggest that you contact the network that aired the program or the publisher of the film in question.
You may also wish to contact the American Humane Association Movie and Television Unit online or at (818) 501-0123. This unit oversees the use of live animals in movies and television as part of an agreement with the Screen Directors Guild.
Where can I report offensive depictions of animal cruelty on the Internet?
You're right to be concerned. Some of what is being sold and shown online crosses into the realm of criminal activity. And in some cases, there are laws against showing and selling these images.
To report websites that display acts of cruelty to animals, you should first contact the website host or sponsor. Major providers of Internet service, such as AOL and Google, have Terms of Service agreements that restrict depiction of objectionable material.
The next step is to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. Learn more about what's being done about online cruelty.
Where do I report animal cruelty taking place in a pet store?
For concerns about animal cruelty in pet stores, please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can contact its headquarters at (301) 734-7833, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/, or send an email to email@example.com. The USDA will direct you to the appropriate regional department to which you will be asked to submit your complaint in writing.
Where do I report cruelty by an animal breeder?
For concerns about an animal breeder, please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can contact its headquarters at (301) 734-7833, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The USDA will direct you to the appropriate regional department to which you will be asked to submit your complaint in writing.
How to Report Animal Cruelty
What information should I have on hand when I make a report of animal cruelty?
Try to gather the following information before submitting a report of animal cruelty:
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. However, please 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.Remember, never give away a document without making a copy for yourself!
Can I remain anonymous when I file a complaint about animal cruelty?
Yes, you can, and it is better to file an anonymous report than to do nothing—but please consider providing your information to the agency taking the complaint. These agencies have limited resources, and 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 about what they may have witnessed.
If I report my suspicions that a neighbor is committing animal cruelty, and that person's animal is taken away and put in a shelter, isn't the animal worse off?
It's important to understand that reporting cruelty is always the right thing to do. Because of the burden it places on the system, animal control officers do not want to remove an animal from a home unless absolutely necessary. If an animal is taken from his or her owner, there was a substantial problem. A seized animal will have the chance to get the necessary help, whether that help is nutritional, medical or behavioral. Also, if an intervention by law enforcement leads to a conviction, you may inadvertently have helped spare other animals from the same abuse: in many states, convicted animal abusers are barred from owning pets.
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Is there anything specific I can say when I make a report of animal cruelty to persuade law enforcement to take it seriously?
Yes—let them know that you are taking the incident seriously. Make it clear that you are very interested in pursuing the case and that you are willing to lend assistance however you can. Although law enforcement agencies must pay attention to anonymous reports of serious crimes, including animal cruelty, they are more likely to follow up on cases where there are credible witnesses willing to stand behind the report and, if necessary, testify in court about what they may have witnessed.
Provide law enforcement with a concise, written statement of what you observed, giving dates and approximate times whenever possible. If you can do so without entering another person's property without their permission, you may wish to photograph the location, the animals and the surrounding area. If you can, provide law enforcement with the names and contact information for other people who have firsthand information about the situation.
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How should I follow up on my report of animal cruelty?
When you report animal cruelty, it's a good idea to keep a careful record of exactly whom you contacted, the date of the contacts, copies of any documents you provided to law enforcement or animal control, and the content and outcome of your discussion. This will make following up much easier.
If you do not receive a response from the officer assigned to your case within a reasonable length of time, make a polite follow-up call to inquire about the progress of the investigation. As a last resort, and only if you are reasonably certain that no action has been taken on your complaint, you may wish to contact a supervisory officer or a local or state government official to request action.
Please keep in mind that most law enforcement agencies operate with limited personnel and resources. Most of these agencies are doing their best to conduct timely and efficient investigations. Being respectful of the challenges they face. Giving them the benefit of the doubt when appropriate will likely get you much further than premature complaints to their superiors.
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For Parents & Educators: Kids and Cruelty
Do you have any materials on reporting animal cruelty specifically for kids?
ASPCA Animaland, our website for kids, is filled with content that explains to children what animal cruelty is and how to report it accurately and safely. You can start with What You Can Do To Help Stop Animal Cruelty, then take a look at the other materials in our Real Issues section that teach kids what they can do to help prevent crimes against animals.
My child told me he's seen someone abusing an animal. What can I do?
This can be the perfect opportunity for you to explain what cruelty is and why it is wrong. Our article, Why Do People Abuse Animals?, written especially for kids, helps explain why treating animals cruelly is not only improper behavior, but is against the law in every state in our country. You and your child can also report the incident(s) together. Visit our Fight Animal Cruelty section for tips on how to recognize and accurately report crimes against animals and find out who in your state has the power to arrest for such crimes. For more information on teaching children to respect animals, please read our article, Talking to Kids About Animal Cruelty.
How can I help prevent children from being cruel to animals?
One of the most powerful tools for preventing cruelty to animals is education. Humane behavior should be taught to children early on. If you're a parent, teach your child what he or she can do to help animals and urge your local schools to integrate humane education into their curricula.
I have witnessed a child being cruel to and/or abusing animals. What's the best way to handle this situation?
In a perfect world, you would be able to intercept the abuse and speak with a receptive parent or adult guardian. In the real world, if you are lucky enough to know with whom to speak, be prepared for a dismissive reaction. Those in charge of raising the child may be unaware that treating an animal cruelly is indicative of bullying behavior and should be corrected. Because it is important to proceed with extreme tact in these situations, we recommend that you speak with a professional at your local shelter or animal rescue to find out how to broach such a conversation.
Something else to keep in mind is that children's behavior is often a natural extension of what they have learned from watching adults—or from being a victim of abuse themselves. The conduct of children quite often reflects what goes on in their homes. So you may encounter a deeply shocked, concerned parent—or you might find yourself face-to-face with the grown-up version of the disturbed child you are trying to help.
If you are a teacher and have seen one or more of your students abusing an animal, consider calling upon your school's counselor to intervene.
Whether or not you are able to speak to the child's guardian, be the animal's voice and report the abuse just as you would if the perpetrator were an adult. Avail yourself of all the agencies that may take an interest: the police, your local humane society or SPCA, children's services, etc. Make sure that those to whom you report the abuse understand that it is a public safety as well as an animal cruelty issue, since kids who hurt animals are often likely to commit violence against people later in life.