Touchy Situation: When a Friend or Family Member Mistreats a Pet

Sadly, most people have been in a situation in which they’ve witnessed someone close to them mistreating a pet. Whether it’s your college roommate giving alcohol to the fraternity cat, or your aging mother beginning to forget to feed her dog, it’s a miserable place to be: Unsure whether or not to say something, reluctant to turn a loved one in, but, as a pet lover, unable to just do nothing.

Immediate Intervention

If you witness someone close to you neglecting or abusing a pet, and if you are sure it won’t compromise your own safety, it’s sometimes a good idea to intervene. In some cases, having another friend or family member back you up is a good idea; in other situations, it’s best to speak up the instant you see something is wrong.

Be direct but try to stay away from making a judgment about your loved one. Express your concern for them, rather than anger.

For example:

“Mom, I know you love having a dog to keep you company, but I’ve noticed that he often goes without meals these days when you’re struggling with memory loss. Can we sit down and talk about the options to make sure that Pugsley gets what he needs? I’m worried about what a burden this responsibility places on you, especially with the health issues you’re coping with right now. Maybe it’s time to consider either getting someone to help you, or placing your dog in a new home.”

“Uncle Barry, you know I think it’s great that you own ferrets, but every time I come over, they don’t have food. I know you were recently laid off and it can be expensive to keep pets. Can we brainstorm some ways to help you take care of the ferrets until you get back on your feet?”

However, and it bears repeating: Don’t endanger yourself in order to intervene on a pet’s behalf. If you see someone fly into a rage and harm their pet, the best thing you can do for them is leave the area and call the police immediately. You might save one pet by endangering yourself, but your own pets need you, and you won’t be able to care for them if you’re killed or injured intervening in a dangerous situation.

If the Problem Continues

If a gentle but firm intervention yields no results, or if you know it would endanger you to intervene personally, you may need to involve the authorities. Most large humane societies have a cruelty investigations branch or at least communicate with the local animal control officers to support their work. Start by calling the largest animal shelter near you and asking to anonymously report cruelty to an animal. If they can’t take your report, they’ll know who can.

Most animal cruelty investigations end one of two ways: The owner makes changes that satisfy the investigators, or the animal is seized and a court case follows. If the latter happens in the case you reported, you may be asked to testify in court. However, you’re always free to refuse. If you feel it would negatively impact you to testify against the person you reported, don’t do it. Investigators can gather other evidence and prepare a case without your testimony.

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