Frequently Asked Questions about Reporting Animal Cruelty

What is animal cruelty?

Animal cruelty involves gratuitously inflicting harm, injuring, or killing an animal. The cruelty can be intentional, such as kicking, burning, stabbing, beating, or shooting; or it can involve neglect, such as depriving an animal of water, shelter, food, and necessary medical treatment. Animal fighting, in which animals are trained or forced to attack each other in violent confrontations at the risk of grave injury or death, is another form of animal cruelty.

Should I report animal cruelty if I suspect it, but do not have proof?

Yes. Animal cruelty is against the law in every state, and certain acts of animal abuse are also considered felonies. It is important to report a suspected crime, whether it is animal abuse, child abuse, or some other illegal act. Do not worry if you cannot “prove your case.” The job of law enforcement is to investigate suspicious activities. Your report, even if it is not “complete,” is useful evidence that will help them determine the facts and the need for further action.

Whom should I call to report animal cruelty?

Because animal cruelty is a crime, we recommend that you first report any suspected abuse to the local police or sheriff.  If you suspect an act of cruelty is presently occurring or will soon occur, and feel that emergency action is warranted to prevent serious injury or death to an animal, call 911. To report animal cruelty that has already occurred (and may occur again, but does not at present involve imminent danger to the animal), call your local police department at the main number.

In addition to law enforcement agencies, it also is recommended that you call the local animal services agency or humane society. Sometimes these agencies are associated with the police or sheriff’s department. But in emergency situations, please call 911 first.

Can I make a report anonymously?

You may remain anonymous. However, a successful outcome is more likely to occur if you are willing to give your name and, if needed, testimony. Law enforcement often is understaffed and underfunded. A case is more likely to be pursued if the person reporting gives his/her name and indicates a willingness to help in other ways. If you do give your name to law enforcement, it should be kept strictly confidential.  

What kind of information will the police want?

Provide as much detail as you can: location, time, description of perpetrator(s), number of times incident occurred, types of animals involved. Take notes of what you observe. If you can do so without risking personal injury, take a photo or video of the animal—either while it is happening or after. Provide the names and contact information of other witnesses, if there are any.

What kind of follow-up is needed after I report?

Keep a record of what information you gave the police, as well as the date you gave it, and the officer to whom you spoke. Check back after a reasonable amount of time.

What if I call and the police do not respond?

If you do not achieve a satisfactory response, call again. Determine who the supervisor is and call that person. Keep records of every call, noting date, time, and contact person. If there still is no action, call your local prosecutor’s office and report your concerns.  If there is a pattern of the police not responding, you might want to contact the office of the mayor or chief of police to register a complaint, or reach out to a local investigative reporter or other local media to share the information, and also use social media.

Should I try to stop someone harming an animal if I am nearby?

Use your judgment and stay safe. If you are an adult and feel safe and competent to handle the situation, then approaching a person who may be harming an animal, or about to harm an animal, could constitute the fastest and most effective intervention. However, when in doubt, don’t confront the perpetrator. Call 911 and make sure to note as many identifying details as possible.