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Column

ADVICE ON PETS

Heres how to respond to animal abuse

DEAR BOOTSIE: I heard that national Be Kind to Animals Week is coming up soon, and it got me thinking if I saw an instance of animal abuse or cruelty, Im not really sure what I should do or who I should report it to. Ive spoken to some friends about it, and they felt the same way. What should people do if they think something suspicious is going on in regards to an animal? I hope I never have to use the information, but animals (except for you, of course) cannot speak up for themselves, so Id like to be prepared.
Just in Case
DEAR JUST IN CASE: Knowing what to do if you suspect animal abuse is vital to improving the lives of both animals and people. There is a well-established link between animal abuse, family violence and other forms of community violence, so stopping and preventing these kinds of violent crimes is vital to the safety and well-being of our communities.
In most cases, the only way that law enforcement is going to hear about instances of animal cruelty is through reporting by a concerned citizen. Without tips from the public, many animals, and often children or other family members, would remain in abusive situations, unable to defend themselves. It is up to the general public to know what to do.
The first step in determining what action should be taken about suspected animal abuse is to determine if what you are seeing is actually abuse. Animal cruelty occurs when someone deliberately injures or harms an animal or when a person knowingly deprives an animal of food, water or medical care. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, some common signs of animal abuse and neglect are:
- Tick or flea infestations.
- Wounds on the body.
- Patches of missing hair.
- Extremely thin, starving animal.
- Limping.
- 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.
- Animals who cower in fear or act aggressively when approached by their owners.
If you see an animal that you are worried about, the first thing to do is run through a mental checklist. Make sure the animal has the basic necessities: food, water and shelter. It should also have a clean living area, be free from untreated injuries, and look generally healthy overall. If the situation does not meet these criteria, investigate further.
If you feel that it is safe to do so, the next step in your investigation may be to talk to the owner. This animal may have recently been rescued from an abusive situation and is recovering, or perhaps the owner is working with their veterinarian on treating a prolonged illness. If not, then at least you may have an opportunity to educate on proper pet care.
Keep in mind that animal abuse is a violent situation, and people who are cruel to animals are often cruel to people. If you feel safe stepping in and attempting to stop a situation, then do so, but keep your own safety in mind first and foremost. If you witness someone actively hurting an animal, you may be better off immediately calling the police, rather than attempting to intervene yourself.
Once you determine that the situation is neglect or abuse, try to gather as much evidence as you can, so that you can present a detailed case when you make your report. Include dates, times, and the nature of the problem, even if you only suspect that there is abuse or neglect occurring. Photographs and videotape will also be helpful when the case is pursued by law enforcement. Put together your own concise written statement, and if possible, gather statements from other witnesses.
Your next step will be reporting the case. In most places, you will make your report to your local animal control officer or to the police. Call and report the case, as well as sending in your written factual statement and any other evidence you have collected. Keep a copy of everything you send in for your own files. Be sure that you make it clear to the officer that you are very interested in pursuing the case, and that you are willing to lend whatever assistance you can.
You may report animal cruelty anonymously if you wish. However, please consider giving your information to the person taking your report. 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 have seen.
Once your report is submitted, be sure to follow up with animal control within a reasonable length of time. Talk directly to the investigating officer, if possible. If you are not satisfied with the way he or she has handled the problem, explain why and request additional action. You may also bring the case to their supervisor or local government officials.
If you would like more information on reporting animal cruelty, neglect and abuse, the ASPCA is a great resource. At www.aspca.org/Home/Fight-An..., there is information on reporting and preventing cruelty to animals, including tips for recognizing abuse and neglect, frequently asked questions about reporting, lists of animal laws by state, and information on the link between animal abuse and domestic violence.
It is only by keeping an eye out for each other that we can create a humane community. When you see abuse or neglect of an animal, please report it. Call your local police or animal control officer. Every time an intervention occurs, hope is present.
Love, Bootsie
Mail questions to Bootsie Potter, P.O. Box 412, Newport, RI 02840, or send email to bootsiep@potterleague.org. The Potter League for Animals is located at 87 Oliphant Lane in Middletown. For more information, log on to www.potterleague.org.
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