Recently out on an afternoon walk with my best bud Ricky, I saw something incredibly unfortunate. I didn’t even realize what I was seeing for a moment. We were in our park, which is built on a steep hill. Ricky and I were at the bottom of the hill when a teenage girl began to tear down the slope through immense brush and undergrowth.
Her urgency was easy to detect. I thought she was being chased. Then I saw the most beautiful Pit Bull I had ever seen racing up the hill toward her. His body was lean and his hide was decorated by a gorgeous pattern of white and brown. His tail was wagging excitedly as he approached the girl.
“Don’t ever run away from me again!” she screamed, then proceed to aggressively slap the dog’s back and face before grabbing the collar and dragging the dog through the painful undergrowth back to the top of the hill and out of sight.
Out of sight out of mind. Right? Wrong.
The scene didn’t leave me for days. I happen to be a combat veteran who witnessed a lot of horrible things happen to dogs in Iraq. But that was a war. This was my community. And that’s when I realized that I was not upset about the abuse. I was upset that I did nothing. But in a situation like that, what do you do?
I didn’t have an answer to my own question. And though it may have been too late for me to help the Pit Bull I saw, it was not too late for me to educate myself and be prepared to help other animals in the future. This is what I learned.
Abuse may not always be obvious, and it won’t always involve hitting. These are the telltale signs of abuse:
- The dog is denied regular access to food, water and shelter
- Open wounds or blood stains are apparent on the dog
- Signs of untreated illness such as unchecked rash or mucous around eyes and nose
- Evidence of neglect such as clumpy, matted hair and extremely long nails
- Excessive aggression or excessive timidity
- Physical strikes against the dog like punching, kicking, strangulation, etc.
Not all of the above signs are required to constitute abuse, but one of these alone may, depending on the severity. If you believe that any of these may be happening to an animal in your community, it’s time to take action.
Understanding The Law
Penalties for abuse vary by state and the severity of the offense. What this means is that the alleged abuser may or may not go to jail for abusing their dog. Depending on your state and the extent of the abuse, the charge may count as a misdemeanor or felony offense. Whether the alleged abuser has prior convictions for similar offenses will also determine the nature of conviction.
It’s important to understand that reporting abuse does not automatically lead to the arrest of the perpetrator and the surrender of the dog. However, if you familiarize yourself with your local law you will understand what is required to help the animal, even if it means repeatedly reporting the abuser.
MSU’s Animal Legal and Historical Center is a fantastic resource for understanding the legal aspects of pet ownership, and they’re just as great a resource for handling abuse. Their site also provides a list of animal cruelty laws by state.
How To Report Abuse
The ASPCA offers a number of resources available for the reporting of cruelty. Their website even features a page that allows you to find who you should contact in your own state. If you believe the situation qualifies as an emergency, never hesitate to call 911.
When reporting abuse, be as clear and concise as possible. It may help you to prepare a written statement explaining what is happening, where it is happening, and who is doing it. Offer to provide any evidence you may have, such as photographs or other potential witnesses.
Feel free to lodge the complaint anonymously, but providing your identity and contact information will make you appear as a more credible witness. The more credible the witness, the more likely the authorities will be to take action.
If you’ve seen it, or suspected it, you’ll feel deep down that you have a responsibility to the animal. Especially if you’re in a situation where you may be the only human other than the abuser to know that the dog is at risk. And let’s make no bones about it — a dog that is abused is at risk. Even if the dog physically survives the abuse, the psychological detriment is certain.
Be it dog, cat, pigeon or squirrel, nothing deserves to be abused. And you don’t have to stand for it.