Animals in general and cats in particular are one of the most popular subjects on the internet. The vast majority of stories, pictures and videos on the internet are fun, humorous and cute. But what happens when you stumble across something that appears to be animal cruelty? How do you know when something you see rises to the level of animal abuse? Should you get involved? And if so, what should you do?
People who are passionate about animals have their own interpretations of animal cruelty and a gray area certainly exists. Sometimes photos do not provide enough context to make a determination. Other times cruelty is obvious. Over the past few years, for example, we have had a handful of people complain about people who dress their cats up in costumes. While this may not be a choice the viewer would make with their own cat, it isn’t fair to say the cat is necessarily being abused.
So, what does constitute animal cruelty? And, what can you do about it if it occurs?
To answer these questions we asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for guidance. Here is what we discovered during conversations with both organizations.
WHAT IS ANIMAL CRUELTY?
The FBI defines animal cruelty as:
“Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment. Included are instances of duty to provide care, e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured; transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., uses objects to beat or torture an animal. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing, or trapping.”
Note that the FBI is looking for intentional, knowing and reckless actions that lead to the mistreatment or death of an animal.
Additionally, the FBI categorizes four types of abuse:
- Simple/Gross Neglect (failure to provide food, water, shelter, veterinary care, or intentionally or knowingly withholding food or water)
- Intentional Abuse and Torture
- Organized Abuse (dog fighting and cock fighting)
- Animal Sexual Abuse (bestiality)
The FBI began collecting data on animal cruelty beginning on January 1, 2016.
SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OF WHAT IS AND ISN’T ANIMAL CRUELTY
Here are four situations that will help illustrate animal cruelty.
You are walking down the stairs at night and accidentally step on your cat. The cat screams and runs away. Worried and alarmed, you go to look for the cat. The cat seems fine, is not limping and begins rubbing against your leg. Are you guilty of animal abuse?
No. You didn’t intentionally hurt your cat. It was an accident. And you checked to ensure your pet was not injured.
After tripping on your cat, you notice it is limping and appears to be in pain. The cat doesn’t seem to be able put pressure on its paw. You decide to wait a few days to see what happens, ignoring the injury, because you think the cat will recover soon enough. Are you guilty of animal abuse?
Yes, intentionally neglecting your pet when you know it’s injured is considered abuse. As a responsible pet owner, you must provide your pet with veterinary care to ensure your pet is healthy and not injured. Only a licensed veterinarian can tell you if your pet has been injured and the nature of the injury.
It’s spring break and you notice that your neighbors have left their dog outside tethered to the fence with a bowl of food and water. Your neighbors are gone for several days. The temperatures in the evenings have even dipped around freezing. A few days after they’ve left, you peer over the fence and see the dog sleeping on the frozen ground, and two empty bowls, one of which is overturned. Are your neighbors animal abusers? Should you report this?
Yes. Knowingly leaving a dog or any other animal without enough food and water is animal abuse. You should report the incident. Call your local police immediately.
You are surfing the internet and various social media sites. You come across someone’s video of a cat being thrown into a bathtub full of water. The cat looks petrified and struggles to get out the tub. When it finally does, the person in the video tosses the cat back in the water. The person is laughing hysterically, but the cat looks really miserable. Is this cruelty?
Most likely. The person in the video appears to be intentionally abusing and/or torturing the helpless cat for his own amusement. You may feel helpless because you don’t know who recorded the video, who is in the video, where or when the video was taken, however, as explained below, there are things you can do.
HOW TO REPORT ANIMAL CRUELTY
The ASPCA takes a strong stance on animal cruelty and provided the following statement to The Catnip Times:
“Animal cruelty is a crime in every state, and the ASPCA encourages the public to take action if they see cruelty online. If you have concrete information that a website or social media account is displaying/promoting criminal acts and you can find out the location that the criminal act is happening, the most effective response is still traditional, local law enforcement. (“Local” in this case means based in the area from which the website originates.) Do not contact the owner of the website or account directly—instead, you may wish to contact any or all of the following organizations and advise them of the facts of the situation:
- Local law enforcement officials. Try your local police first. If you believe an animal is in immediate danger, contact the possible offender’s local FBI branch. The FBI stresses that going to local police is the preferred course of action.
- Local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCA) and/or humane society. These organizations may have the power to enforce animal cruelty laws in the area.
- Local city/county Health Department/Board of Health. If the situation involves unsafe or unsanitary conditions for humans, the depart of health may get involved.
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). IC3 is a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. You can file an online report with IC3 only if what you have seen has a monetary angle (someone selling, trading, or offering an illegal good or service). Select “Money” when asked what the incident you are reporting involved. Please note, you may file a report from abroad, but the IC3 will only review reports of suspected abuse taking place in the United States.
- Local and national media organizations. Contact local media outlets to bring public attention to an animal abuse situation. Doing so can help initiate corrective actions.
For more information on fighting animal cruelty, visit the ASPCA for additional information: https://www.aspca.org/fight-cruelty/report-internet-cruelty
We are the voice for animals. Indifference is not a solution. It’s important to take action when you see suspected animal abuse. Report the incident with as much information that you have (screen names, web address, screenshots, etc.) to local law enforcement first. If local law enforcement isn’t able to respond try the other entities suggested above. And don’t contact the abuser directly. Please leave enforcement of the laws to the police and other law enforcement officials. Thank you for taking a stand against animal cruelty and speaking for those without a voice.