We’ve all felt our hearts break over stories of animal abuse. We’ve seen the videos online, from high profile cases to local news reports. Perhaps you've even witnessed abuse or neglect firsthand by a neighbor or loved one.
Sometimes the animal caretaker is blind to their inability to offer appropriate animal care, while other cases are blatant issues of abuse and neglect.
It can be hard to decide when to pull the trigger and call animal protection services, but we all have a moral responsibility to help the most vulnerable in our communities.
At a Glance
Animal abuse encompasses a range of behaviors that are harmful to animals, from neglect and cruelty to the intentional, inhumane killing of animals.
Many cases of neglect investigated by humane officers are unintentional and can be resolved through education and community support. However, intentional cruelty can run the gamut of offenses, from gratuitous infliction of harm or injury to inhumane killing. Such cases often result in criminal prosecution.
Animal cruelty is not only abhorrent, but there is evidence that animal abuse has long been linked with other forms of antisocial behaviors and criminal violence. It is increasingly studied as a gateway crime to violence against adults and children.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, it is estimated that “animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug or disorderly conduct offenses.”
In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder.
Animal abuse is illegal in every state, and a felony in most. The Animal Protection Laws of Ohio outlines general animal protection and related statutes for Ohio and begins with a detailed overview of the provisions contained in these laws, followed by the full text of the statutes themselves.
So just what are the warning signs of animal abuse and neglect?
Lack of Adequate Food, Water, or Shelter
If an animal does not receive adequate amounts of nourishment, it is considered abuse or neglect (depending on the circumstances).
Additionally, if an animal is caged or tied up so closely it cannot stand, or if the animal is contained in an area that is largely or fully exposed to inclement weather or constant sun, it is considered an inadequate living environment.
In many states, if an animal dies as a result of being left alone in a hot car or other extreme environment, the owner can be criminally charged.
Obvious Conditions of Physical Trauma
In addition to abnormal behavior—such as extreme aggression or extreme fear—many traumatized animals may present the following:
Malnourished, emaciated, or dehydrated appearance
Open wounds or signs of multiple healed wounds
An ongoing injury or illness that isn't being treated
Untreated skin conditions that have caused opened wounds, loss of hair, scaly skin, bumps, or rashes
Extreme fur infestation of fleas, ticks, or other parasites
Signs of inadequate grooming, such as extreme matting of fur
Weakness, lethargy, limping, or the inability to stand or walk normally
Unsanitary Living Conditions
Unsanitary living conditions, such as feces or debris covering the animal’s living area for prolonged amounts of time is almost always considered abuse.
Animal abandonment is defined as any animal left in a house, yard, or other area that appears empty or devoid of normal human activity for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, reports of companion animals being abandoned and left to die inside vacant buildings are alarmingly common. It is a crime in all fifty states to abandon an animal.
Animal Fighting or Organized Cruelty
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 illegal and the perpetrators may be criminally prosecuted. This practice is especially common with bully breed dogs, and even roosters.
Training implements such as treadmills, spring poles, etc. may be evident on the property.
Extreme signs of trauma may also likely be evident among the animals, such as scars, open wounds, infections, and even missing body parts.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an estimated 250,000 animals are hoarding victims each year. Hoarders keep abnormally large numbers of animals for whom they cannot provide the most basic care. Such cases may seem less egregious than extreme abuse, but severe neglect can mean extended periods of suffering for animals, often resulting in permanent injury or death.
Overt Eye Witness Reports of Abuse
This may include witnessing an owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal.
How You Can Help
Teaching future generations to respect the lives of animals fosters a more humane, compassionate society.
You can help stop the cycle of violence by recognizing that animal abuse is often an indicator of serious problems, and reporting animal abuse can help authorities not only aid animals that would otherwise continue to be left in abusive, neglectful situations, but also stop other types of societal violence.
So, what can you do to help abused animals and your community at large?
First, collect evidence. Documenting incidents of abuse and neglect with photographs or video can help in prosecuting the abuser. Your report should be as detailed as possible. You should note names, addresses, dates, times, and specific circumstances. Remember, though, to not put yourself in danger. Do not enter another person's property without permission, and exercise great caution around unfamiliar animals who may be frightened or in pain.
Report incidents along with the physical evidence. Make it clear to the officer that you are making a formal complaint and that you are willing to lend whatever assistance you can. Be sure to keep a careful record of exactly what authority and with whom you spoke, the date of the contact, and the content and outcome of any discussions. Keep a copy of your records if you’re asked to provide them to the authority.
Be aware that an investigating officer will not identify the source of the complaint and you can choose to remain anonymous. However, should the cruelty suspect be prosecuted, you may be asked to testify because, while many jurisdictions will respond to an anonymous complaint, successful prosecutions often depend on an identifiable witness who can authenticate evidence.
Know who to report to in Belmont County
ANIMAL ABUSE, CRUELTY, & NEGLECT INVESTIGATIONS:
Please contact the Belmont County Animal Rescue League Humane Agent at (740)-296-8644 and report the issue to a humane agent for investigation.
DOGS LOOSE , SICK OR INJURED STRAY DOGS , OR DOG BITES AND INJURIES:
Contact Belmont County Dog Warden at (740)-695-4708 to file a report. Stray dogs found by the public can also be dropped off at the shelter.
NON-SERIOUS DOG BITES AND BITES AND INJURIES BY OTHER ANIMALS (i.e. cats, raccoons, bats):
Call the Belmont County Health Department at (740)-695-1202.
Call the Ohio Division of Wildlife at 1-800-WILDLIFE(945-3543).