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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

What Do I Do If I Witness Animal Cruelty?

Many of us cherish our pets as family members and the thought of causing them harm is heartbreaking, so witnessing animal cruelty can be a frightening and disheartening experience. However, the steps we take in that moment can literally mean the difference between life and death. The following are some helpful steps that you can take if you witness animal cruelty.

1. Stay Composed

Anger or panic can put you and the animal at further risk.

2. Do Not Trespass - Do Not Put Yourself in Danger - Do Be Mindful of an Animal's Space

It is against the law and considered trespassing to go on private or owned property without being invited, or to stay on such property after being asked to leave (this includes residential property, pet stores, breeders, farms and animal shelters, etc.). Also keep in mind, if an individual is harming an animal, chances are they would harm a human, and confronting them will potentially put you and the animal at risk. An injured or frightened animal may also harm you in a reflex action to protect itself.

3. Take Notes

  • Date

  • Time

  • Location

  • Description of Animal(s): Breed, color, gender, approx. age, collar, tags, information on the tags

  • Description of Environment or Shelter: Is the animal in a cage, kennel, crate or other kind of shelter? Is the shelter falling apart? What is it made of? Does it have a roof? Is it wet inside? Is there anything on the floor, such as straw? Is it big enough for the animal to lie down, stand up, and turn around in? Sanitation of shelter; amount of feces and/or urine, is the animal walking, standing or laying in it? Make note if there food and/or water, and if it appears dirty/potable. Does the environment cause you a physical reaction; burning nose, gaging, difficulty breathing or keeping eyes open, burning or watery eyes?

  • Type of Tether/Restraints: Leash, chain, rope, muzzle, etc.

  • Description of Cruelty: Cruelly whipping, torture, beating, mutilation, any other type of violence, abuse, mistreatment and/or neglect; deprivation of shelter, water, food, inadequate care, abandonment, any noticeable wounds, injuries, potential ailments, inability to stand or walk normally, discharge from eyes or nose, extreme matting of fur or overgrown nails (such as nails so long that they are curling), extreme thinness or emaciation, tick or flea infestation, etc.

  • Climate/Weather Factors: Temperature, snow, heat, ice, wind, rain, humidity, sunlight

  • Individual(s) Involved: Name of animal owner(s) and/or individual(s) involved, gender, age, height, weight, hair color, eye color, clothing

'Where/What - You See, Smell and Feel'

If you feel flustered, take a deep breath and ask yourself, "Where am I, and What do I See, Smell and Physically Feel?" then write it down.

Some information is better than no information. If you can't note all that is listed above, do not hesitate to file a report based on any amount of information that you do have.

4. Take Pictures or Video - Remember, Do Not Trespass

While evidence is crucial in animal cruelty cases, it is vital not to trespass to obtain it. Any pictures/videos you take must be from public property or while on private property with permission, so as not to break any trespassing laws. Try to take pictures/video from the street, sidewalk or public parking lot. The inside of a business, such as a pet store during open business hours is considered public and taking pictures is okay, as long as you have not been asked by the owner, employee or law enforcement to leave. If you are a current and active employee who is on the clock or working during your shift, that is not considered trespassing. However, please note that facility owners and managers often restrict employees from taking pictures to hide cruelty, and breaking those rules could lead to your employment termination. And again, always consider your safety.

5. Do Not Post Pictures/Videos or Details on Social Media

Posting details of animal cruelty on social media may warn the perpetrator, providing them the opportunity to go into hiding before local police or investigators can take action; greatly reducing the chance of prosecution and increasing risk of further harm to animals.

6. Contact The Local Police Department or Sheriff's Offices

Local means the city/town where you witnessed the cruelty. If you know that city/town has an animal control department, you may contact them directly. If not, contact the local police. File a legitimate animal cruelty report and provide all notes you gathered. You may be able to do so anonymously, however, providing your name and address is preferred, as a prosecution is more successful with a witness’s testimony.

7. Contact A Local Humane Society

Call a humane society within the city/town where you witnessed the cruelty. A list may be found here.

8. Contact An Animal Welfare Investigator:

NHSPCA: 603-772-2921 x111

Pope Memorial SPCA: 603-856-8756 x 240

9. Contact The Department of Agriculture

If the cruelty involves horses, livestock, pet stores, breeders or animal shelters/rescues, contact the Dept. of Agriculture:

New Hampshire: Division of Animal Industries: 603-271-2404

United States: APHIS: (301)-851-3751 (you will be directed to the appropriate regional department)

10. Contact the HSUS:

The Humane Society of the United States may be able to offer prosecution assistance and/or provide resources and rewards regarding particular cases. HSUS Tip Lines & Rewards.

HSUS: 866-720-2676

11. If You Witness Internet Animal Cruelty

Think twice before sharing photos or videos of animal cruelty. Not only could it send the perpetrator into hiding before authorities can locate them, but the individual creating such videos could financially benefit from it. If you do see such online photos/videos, take a print screen of it with a date/time stamp included if possible. The HSUS has an online guide on how to report internet animal cruelty, which you can view here.

12. Document Your Report(s)

Document the date and time you filed the report(s) and the name of the people you spoke with. You can do this by immediately sending an email(s) including all the details of your report to the office(s) you called and CC'ing yourself on the email(s) as well.

Example: "Thank you for taking my call today regarding my report of the cruelty I witnessed. As a courtesy, I'm following-up with an email including all the information we discussed, so that we have it for both our files."

Insert all details and attach any photos or videos you have, and then sign-off with your full name.

You can also send the email to yourself only with all the information if there is no available email address for the office you called, or if you filed the report anonymously.

13. Friendly Follow-Up

If you have not seen action within a reasonable amount of time, kindly call again as a friendly follow up to inquire on the progress.

14. Social Media - Last Resort

If additional time goes by and you still do not see any action, or those you have reached out to are non-responsive, you may attempt to use social media and/or an online petition as tools to apply pressure on those in the position of authority.

Trust Your Instincts

Remember, trust your instincts. If something seems wrong, it most likely is. The goal is to rescue the animal and/or prevent further animal cruelty. Missteps can counteract animal welfare efforts, but the steps above can lead to success and lives saved.

Other Helpful Links:

Reporting Animal Cruelty - ASPCA

Reporting Animal Cruelty - HSUS


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