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5 Things You Can Do to Help End Animal Abuse

In honor of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, here's how you can recognize crimes against cats and do something about it.

Lisa Plummer Savas  |  Apr 24th 2015


It’s incredibly hard for most pet parents to understand why people would intentionally hurt their own cats. Why would people go out of their way to inflict pain on their pets or to allow suffering through negligence? Although conditions for companion animals have greatly improved over the last few decades, especially in Western societies, there are still many people who view cats the old-fashioned way: as property. These individuals typically don’t recognize pets as sentient beings capable of having emotions, only as objects they have the right to do with as they wish. And sometimes, that includes acts of cruelty.

Vagrant cat by Shutterstock

Vagrant cat by Shutterstock

That’s where cat lovers can make a difference, by doing their part to make sure abusers don’t get away with these crimes. So in honor of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, we’ll walk you through how to recognize animal cruelty and do something about it.

1. Understand your local laws

Animal cruelty laws can vary (all 50 states have them), and every city or county has different ordinances that spell out what constitutes illegal treatment of a cat. So it’s important to understand what is or isn’t considered prosecutable in your community.

For example, most loving cat parents would never dream of leaving their fur babies outside in extreme weather conditions (let alone at all!), but in many cities and counties throughout the U.S. it’s perfectly legal to do just that. However, if those felines are emaciated, with no food, water, or shelter in sight, chances are that owner is in violation and can be cited for animal cruelty.

Cat in a shelter by Shutterstock

Cat in a shelter by Shutterstock

2. Learn the signs of animal neglect and abuse

According to the Humane Society of the United States, animal cruelty comes in two forms: direct violence and neglect. While direct violence is the most obvious, neglect is the most common. In fact, tons of cats die from neglect every year, right under the noses of the people in their communities. That’s why it’s important to be able to identify both kinds.

Here are some signs of animal cruelty:

  • Animals left outside in extreme weather with no shelter
  • Poor living conditions, including filth and dangerous objects near the animal
  • Lack of food and water
  • Emaciated animals
  • Too many animals living on one property or animal hoarding
  • Wounds on an animal’s body or patches of missing hair
  • Excessive amounts of animals kept in small spaces
  • Untreated injuries or illnesses
  • Animal abandonment
  • Prolonged or excessive barking or howling
  • Acts of violence against animals
Stray cat in the street by Shutterstock

Stray cat in the street by Shutterstock

3. Take action against animal cruelty

So you suspect a cat is being neglected or have observed the cat being abused — now what? According to Lara Hudson, director of Fulton County Animal Services in Atlanta, there are some key steps to follow:

Pick up the phone — If it’s an emergency situation, call 911. Otherwise, call your local animal control or humane organization as soon as possible. If you don’t have either in your area, call the police and report the situation. Relay exactly what you saw, give plenty of details, and leave your contact information. You can ask to remain anonymous, but do give dispatch a number it can call in case the investigating officer needs to ask you any questions, Hudson says.

Confront the perpetrator if it’s safe — If you feel comfortable, speak to the person one-on-one or have somebody else to go with you, just in case.

“Everybody has to use their own judgment and be safe, but ultimately, most cases are best left to law enforcement,” Hudson advises.

Document the details — Again, if it’s safe, take pictures and/or video of the situation and plenty of notes. When it comes to prosecuting animal cruelty, a picture really is worth a thousand words and can mean the difference between an abuser getting away with the crime and an actual conviction.

“Taking pictures and video absolutely helps,” Hudson says. “With those cruelty cases that have photos, it’s very hard for the judge to say ‘not guilty.”

Be persistent and follow up — If your local animal control or police department isn’t being responsive, call back and ask to speak to a supervisor. It’s important to keep in mind that most law enforcement agencies operate with limited personnel and resources and that most do their best to conduct timely and efficient investigations. However, if after numerous calls you’re still not getting a response, consider calling your local news station — there’s nothing like publicity to encourage law enforcement to fix a problem!

Stray cat in the woods by Shutterstock

Stray cat in the woods by Shutterstock

4. Be prepared to testify in court

Once an animal control officer has gone to the property to check on the cat, typically an officer will investigate your complaint to see if any cruelty laws have been violated. If a violation has occurred, the officer may speak with the owner, issue a citation, and give the person a chance to correct the problem. If the neglect or abuse is extreme, however, animal control will likely remove the cat and take the cat to the county shelter or humane agency for protection from further harm. The case will then be presented to the local prosecutor’s office for further evaluation and possible owner prosecution.

Be prepared that you may be asked to testify about what you witnessed. Since cats can’t speak for themselves, human witnesses are crucial for building strong, prosecutable cruelty cases, so if at all possible, please be willing and able to do your part, Hudson says.

“It’s so much more helpful if we can get a witness to come into court with us and say what they saw; that way we can get more prosecutions.”

5. Get involved in animal-cruelty prevention

You can also help crack down on animal abuse in your community by finding out if your local animal services or humane society has a cruelty prevention program or volunteer task force you can join.

“There’s so much that can be done to prevent cruelty from happening to begin with, which is the only way we’re going to stop it,” Hudson says. “The more people we can get involved, the better it’s going to be for everybody.”

Cat with skin disease by Shutterstock

Cat with skin disease by Shutterstock

So if you witness or suspect animal abuse, don’t just stand there — report it! Your call may be the only chance that cat has to find help and possibly be rescued from a miserable or life-threatening situation. Animal cruelty is a crime, and the more often abusive individuals are punished for their behavior, the less likely others will be inclined to do the same. Animals have no voice, so it is our obligation and duty to speak for them, especially when they’re being mistreated.

For more information about reporting and preventing animal cruelty, check out the ASPCA’s Fight Cruelty webpage.

Let’s hear from you, readers. Have you ever confronted an animal abuser or reported animal abuse? Share your experiences and tips in the comments.

Read more about animal abuse on Catster:

About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about controversial animal welfare issues, including the dog and cat meat trade in Asia and Africa. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work by visiting her blog and website.