Neglect: What Do You Do?!

1)  If you see an animal being actively abused (beaten, locked in a hot car, etc) CALL THE POLICE!

2) If you are seeing ongoing neglect which is not immediately dangerous, read on:

Resolve to DO Something.
 Too many people walk away from a situation with a careless shrug. They figure that the situation is someone else's problem. WRONG. Because of the lack of support for animals in need, it has to be your problem. Charities are overburdened, cops will rarely do anything, and the situation is not magically going to get better. You need to act!

Once you've firmly decided to pursue things, you'll probably be frightened and angry, both at the neglect and at the prospect of having to confront the owner. This is a natural reaction... but recognize that there may not be purposeful abuse going on here. Being ignorant about animal care, being ill and other excuses aren't at all good reasons to allow animals to suffer, but being angry with a person like this will not help. 

Reach Out
Sometimes the most important thing you can do is talk to people. Go knock on the door. Tell the owner(s) that you are a neighbor, introduce yourself, be chatty and nice, and eventually steer the conversation towards their pets. Oh, wow, you just love horses/dogs/pigs! Gush a little, and ask to see the animals. "Golly gosh, I would just be so happy to see Mr. Ed!" Don't be hostile. Build some trust, so you can better ask questions and see exactly how good/bad the living conditions are. Most well-intentioned people are happy to show off their pets.

While you are petting whatever critter you're concerned about, you can make some suggestions about proper care, or ask pointed questions like, "she's sooo pretty, but what's up with that icky sore?" Sometimes people are genuinely blind to their animals' needs until they are pointed out by a stranger. If the owner is really receptive to making their animals' lives better, you can put them in touch with a local vet or farrier and others who can act as mentors. There are many low-cost spay and neuter clinics, vets who will take payment plans, and charitable programs to help pay for pet food. However, once you've mentioned these resources, you're not done-- you are still the best bet for making things better. Make an appointment to meet up with the owner again.

Keep visiting, keep offering advice and support. Consider yourself a kind of self-appointed social worker. Although it can be distasteful, sometimes working with people like this is the only solution, since working against them is so rarely effective. Of course, if they are NOT receptive to help/advice, if they don't WANT to be better owners, then you are stuck, and you absolutely have to involve authorities.

Know When NOT to Help
If you are visiting an owner's property, take precautions. Never put yourself in a dangerous position. Listen to your gut instincts, and keep friends and family informed about where you are going and what time you will be back. If possible, have someone come with you. Do not handle sick animals or their feces-- you will put yourself and your own pets at risk. Do not handle animals who are overly aggressive or fearful-- you can't help them if you get hurt!

If you are helping the animal owner, great.... but don't get carried away. Some animal owners will not change, no matter how much help and encouragement you give them.  Do not keep cleaning up messes or paying for medicines/food/supplies-- by doing stuff like this, you are only enabling the neglectful owner. You are there to help, not to do it all for them. And a person who continually makes excuses but never changes is not someone you should keep supporting, no matter how well-intentioned they may seem. No changes over time means it's time to go to the authorities.

Make Authorities Listen
Let's talk about those authorities. The most important thing you need to know is that, for the most part, they don't give a flying fuck. Cops, Animal Control officers, sheriffs, the DNR-- chances are, they are not going to be very helpful. They're not monsters, but they are usually busy, underfunded, underpowered, and have seen ten times worse. Many of them have little training in animal welfare, and are simply deputies who were stuck with the job title. (I have talked a lot about that stuff in this post.) Anyway, your call about one more starving horse or beaten dog barely registers with them. Therefore, once you go to authorities, you must commit to forcing them to act. (This is why it's sometimes easier to just work with the owner.)

First, in order for anyone to take your complaint seriously, you need details and data. Be sure to record the following:
  • What's the address where the animals are? 
  • Roughly how many are there? 
  • Do they have any food or water? 
  • Can you provide the name of the owner? 
  • What county is that address in, and are you sure you're calling the right authorities? 
  • Did you see the neglect/abuse yourself? 
  • Where were you when you saw it, and what was the date and time? 
Yes, you are going to be interrogated, right down to your own name, phone number and address. I know, not so cool, but the cops are trained to be suspicious of everything, so they need to make sure you are not a vengeful ex or crazy neighbor making shit up. You can help your credibility by documenting EVERYTHING you can. Without trespassing, take video and pictures of abuse, poor conditions, broken fences, wounds, etc and make sure the videos and pics are dated. Send copies of this evidence to the authorities (but keep the originals!). When talking to an officer, it is very important not to lie, get emotional or exaggerate-- do so, and the cops will drop your ass faster than a chicken shits. Your job is to be calm and very firm. If possible, emphasize any public safety issues, like dead carcasses laying around, broken fences near the highway, etc. The cops will care more about those.

After your first phone call to the authorities, keep calling! Don't harass, but politely call every day or every week to ask for updates and ask what action has been taken by the officer(s). Make sure you write down the date and time of the call and the name of the officer you talked to. You should also get a case number. Later, you may need to use this info to talk to supervisors about how nothing is being done. Secondly, enlist others to call as well. Again, they shouldn't harass, get emotional or lie... but DO have friends, families and neighbors go look at what is happening, and have them call to report the bad stuff. If they are not comfortable calling, letters and emails are OK, though less effective.

Keep checking on the animals as much as possible, even if you can only do so by driving by. CONTINUE to keep in touch with the authorities until the animals are better taken care of, or are no longer on the property. This can be a VERY long process, lasting weeks or months, so be patient and persevere.

Note: Sometimes I've had Animal Control lie to me and say that they are coming out, when I know they are not. If possible, keep them honest by saying, "OK, great, I'd like to meet with you anyway to talk about this situation. What time are you coming out, so I can meet you? Or will you please call when you are close, so I can meet with you?" Then DO actually met up with the officer. If the officer never shows up, document this and mention it the next time you call.

Get 'Em on a Technicality
Just as cops care more about broken fences, carasses and other public nuisances than animal neglect, they are also going to care more petty crimes. As we all know, animal abusers are very often shady characters doing other terrible things, so keep an eye out for things like drug use, cars being driven with no plates or expired plates, loud arguments, illegal burning, public intoxication, trash dumping, child abuse, etc. Whenever you see this happening, call the police. While this doesn't help the animals directly, police involvement on the property for any reason starts to create a record of problems that may eventually help in a legal battle to have the animals removed.

Who You Gonna Call? Finding the Proper Authorities
It's important to remember that animal shelters and rescues do not have any legal authority. They can't stop abusers or take animals away from them. However, shelters can often give you the contact information for your local Humane Officer or another similar government-licensed official. Search for your nearest animal shelter on this ASPCA database:

Not every county or state has Humane Officers or Animal Control. In that case, contact your local sheriff. Click here to find a USA map listing law enforcement officers in every county.

Find your local Wisconsin Humane Officer to report animal cruelty here.

If You Can't Stop Abusers, Make Them Infamous 
Eventually, if nothing is being done, you may have to involve the media. As with the police, give them as much information as possible while remaining professional. Send details of the abuser, pictures and video to local news outlets and newspapers, blogs, locally based Facebook pages, etc. State only the facts, so you cannot be accused of libel/slander. If possible, try to give the media a "hook." Animal neglect in itself is not necessarily newsworthy. However, if you mention a starving baby animal, a connection to anyone slightly famous, a public health hazard (like unburied rotting carcasses), etc, the story may get more attention. Once the neglect is noticed by a wider audience, authorities will feel more pressure to act and stop the neglect. At the very least, many people will be warned not to deal with the abuser.

Know the Law
Understand your local laws on animal abuse can be important. This page includes a nice summary of Wisconsin laws. Ask your state's Bar Association for free advice on understanding your state's animal neglect laws.

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