Updated: Apr 21, 2021
What is animal cruelty?
Animal cruelty encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing. Most cruelty investigated by humane officers is unintentional neglect that can be resolved through education.
Intentional cruelty can run the gamut from knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization or veterinary care to maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating or killing an animal.
What is criminal animal neglect?
Animal neglect situations are those in which the animal's caretaker or owner fails to provide food, water, shelter or veterinary care sufficient for survival. It can be either deliberate or unintentional, but either way, the animal suffers terribly. Extended periods of neglect can lead to seriously compromised health or even death. Animal cause control agencies nationwide report that animal neglect cases are the most common calls to which they respond.
Are there laws against animal neglect?
Yes. Although many people do not recognize animal neglect as illegal animal abuse, many states have a provision specifically addressing animal neglect written into their animal cruelty laws; others allow animal neglect to be prosecuted under the general cruelty statute prohibiting acts of "torture" against an animal. Thirteen states have laws limiting the continuous chaining of dogs.
Body condition scoring systems for cattle and horses have long been in place to help assess the condition of livestock, and in recent years scoring systems for dogs (ranging from ideal to emaciated) have been developed to help animal cruelty investigators and veterinarians assess cases of animal neglect.
A major shortcoming of many animal neglect laws is their failure to address all animal species. For instance, many statutes specifically apply only to dogs and cats or "companion animals" and exclude those considered "farm animals" or trapped wildlife.
How does it cause animal suffering?
The pain of an animal who lingers with untreated illness or wounds, or without nourishment or shelter, can be tremendous—sometimes even more so than those who are victims of directly inflicted violence, because their suffering is so prolonged. Animals who starve to death experience a myriad of painful symptoms throughout each stage of their physical deterioration. An initial loss of body fat is followed by muscle loss and atrophy and, ultimately, organ failure. In long-term starvation, degeneration of the liver, cardiac changes, anemia and skin lesions may develop.
An animal without proper shelter can also quickly succumb to extreme heat or cold. During extremely cold spells or hot periods, it is not uncommon for animal control officers to find companion animals—often chained dogs—literally frozen to the ground or dead from heat prostration because of lack of proper shelter from the elements. Often these animals perish only feet away from the homes in which their caretakers live.
Dogs who are continually chained are also neglect victims, even if it may not be illegal in that particular jurisdiction. Because dogs are social pack animals, isolating them at the end of a chain causes them anguish that can drive them to aggression, neuroses and self-mutilation behaviors. Chained dogs are also more likely to be victims of starvation, because their confinement renders them particularly helpless.
What can I do to help fight animal cruelty?