Spotting animal cruelty – and what to do if you see it

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The bystander effect is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people in an emergency situation fail to act because other people are present. The most notable instance occurred when a New York City woman, Kitty Genovese, was murdered outside of her apartment in the early 60s. Numerous tenants in the apartment heard and witnessed Kitty being attacked and eventually killed. No one thought to call the police or stop the attacker because they figured someone else would.

This anomaly in human cognition can be applied to all walks of life. How many time have you been in a scenario where you thought an animal was being mistreated but you failed to act? A dog locked in a car on a hot day, chained up outside during the winter, or the faint yelps coming from a person’s house for extended period of time. After the initial thought of, “this can’t be right,” the average person would think, “I’m sure if something bad is happening someone would have reported it already.” Whether you are able to overcome the bystander effect in your own life depends on whether you are willing to take a stand and act on your initial suspicions. By reporting to the proper authorities you have the satisfaction of knowing you at least gave a reality check to a sub-par dog owner, you saved a dogs life, or you find out that there in fact was no foul play. Either way you overcame just being another bystander and you finally realize why your neighbors dog is outside all winter; it’s a Siberian Huskie and it loves the snow!

So, are you ready to act? Many of us dog lovers would not even think twice before calling the proper authorities to report cruelty. But what constitutes cruelty and who should you contact?

According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), animal cruelty falls under the following categories. In ambiguous situations it is best to be on the safe side and call the proper authority.

  • Tick or flea infestations
  • Wounds on the body
  • Patches of missing hair
  • Extremely thin, starving animal
  • Limping
  • Owner physically abusing an animal
  • Dogs left alone without food or water
  • Animals who cower in fear or act aggressive when their owners are around
  • Dogs kept outside without shelter in extreme conditions

If you witness animal cruelty in the act, you should call 911 immediately. Animal cruelty is against the law and police are required to investigate. Often owners who neglect or abuse their pets come from homes where domestic abuse, child endangerment, and narcotic use are occurring. You may not only be saving an animals life, but a human life as well. Your local humane society or animal control center should be aware of the reported cruelty as well. They often have the authority to give proper medical treatment or shelter to neglected or abused animals. Below is a list of telephone numbers you can call to report suspected animal cruelty in the three major US cities or you can visit the ASPCA website and search their “Find a Shelter Map” to report to your nearest authority.

The next call you make could be the one that saves a dog from a life not worth living under abusive and neglectful owners. Don’t think someone else is going to report cruelty, because chances are that other person is just another bystander.

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