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Understanding and Reporting Companion Animal Abuse

Companion animal abuse takes many different forms, and can be caused by a multitude of contributing factors. This resource analyzes forms of animal abuse, addresses the root causes of abuse, and describes how we as citizens can combat animal abuse.Breed Bans and Dog Fighting 1

Animal Neglect
Most of us understand that the intentional, violent killing of an animal is both illegal and morally reprehensible. That stated, failing to provide for an animal’s basic needs to the degree that the animal experiences intense suffering or death also qualifies as animal cruelty, regardless of the offender’s intent. For instance, continuous dog chaining, failure to supply an animal with necessary food, shelter, and veterinary care, confining an animal for long periods, leaving an animal in a hot car, and having more animals than be adequately cared for, all  cause an animal intense suffering and death – even when the offender lacks to awareness to recognize it. Although not as attention-grabbing as overt violence, animal neglect is probably the most common form of animal cruelty.

Causes of Animal Neglect
Each animal neglect case is different. In some situations, an owner may be grappling with mental illness. He or she may have genuine affection for his or her animals, but nonetheless lacks the capacity to provide adequate care or even recognize that the animals are in distress. Some animal neglect situations arise out of lack of knowledge regarding animal care and safety. For instance, many owners remain unaware of the dangers and illegality of leaving a dog in a hot car.

How to Prevent Animal Neglect
Animal neglect can be prevented with humane education, awareness and action on the part of neighbors and family members, strong social programs, enforced local ordinances mandating proper care of pets, and cooperation and cross-reporting between teachers, social workers, and police. Low-cost spay and neuter programs can help prevent incidences of animal hoarding and chaining, and reduce the number of stray animals within a community.

Causes of Human Violence Towards Animals
Disturbingly, some abusive acts against animals arise out of an offender’s desire to inflict terror and pain upon other living creatures. Demonstrations of violence towards animals and depraved indifference to an animal’s suffering are closely correlated with other forms of criminal behavior including domestic abuse, rape, and homicide. Violent acts against animals are well-documented as one of the earliest and most reliable predictors of later acts of violence against humans. In observance of this fact, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) modified the agency’s annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR) in 2014 to include violent forms of animal cruelty.

The root causes of violent acts against animals remain ambiguous. However, many researchers agree that lack of empathy education early in life combined with extreme childhood abuse may contribute to later acts of violence against animals and people. The late FBI profiler Robert Ressler describes the early life history of some of America’s most well-known serial killers this way, “These were the children who managed to grow up without being taught that poking something into a puppy’s eye is harmful and should not be done…”

Combating Animal Cruelty in Your Community

  •  If you suspect an animal cruelty incident, get as much information as possible without putting yourself or others in danger and without breaking any laws. Note the time, date, witnesses, animals involved, and any license plate numbers or addresses involved. If possible, photograph evidence.
  • As soon as possible, contact your town or county’s animal control office any time you suspect animal cruelty. The animal control office can often be reached through your local sheriff’s department. In many cases, you can ask that a “welfare check” be conducted at an address without filing a formal complaint.
  • Do not report animal cruelty to social networking sites or charities that lack law enforcement capacity. If you witness animal neglect or cruelty, it is imperative that it be reported to law enforcement or 911.
  • Do not share or forward images of animal cruelty online. In many cases, this only grants animal abusers the notoriety they seek. Report offensive and violent imagery to website administrators.
  • Bring humane education programs to your local schools and community events. Get information about free NHES programs and activity ideas here.
  • Write your local lawmakers to express your support of laws and ordinances that call for higher standard of care for animals. Stay on top of animal issues in the news at the NHES Paws Up/Paws Down blog.
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