Sequoia Humane Society

A No-Kill Shelter Saving Lives Everyday

Animal Abuse

What is Animal Abuse?

Many people have different interpretations of what is considered "animal abuse". Identifying abuse or neglect can be harder than it seems. It is important that you look at the entire situation to determine if an animal is being abused or neglected, and to ascertain whether the abuse is intentional and/or malicious. Many times what seems like neglect over a neighbor's fence may be misinterpreted, or may not fall within the legal definition of animal abuse.

There may be situations where you feel an animal is being neglected because they are not being treated the way you yourself would treat a pet. For example, if a dog is left in the back yard at all times. As long as the pet owner provides adequate food, water and shelter, they may not actually be violating any laws.

The legal definition of animal abuse or animal cruelty is what determines how law enforcement may respond to a reported incident. To help facilitate law enforcement's ability to prosecute animal abusers it is important to collect factual information when you suspect abuse or neglect, and to place a report with the law enforcement agency in your jurisdiction.

The California Penal Code defines animal cruelty as the malicious or intentional maiming, mutilation, torture or wounding of a living animal, and states that any person who overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary food, drink or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates or cruelly kills an animal is guilty of a misdemeanor or felony. Any person who owns, possesses, keeps or trains a dog with the intent to engage the animal in exhibition fighting, as well as any person who is knowingly present as a spectator at an exhibition of fighting of dogs, is guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition, any person who willfully abandons any animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.

What Can You Do About Animal Abuse?

If you suspect cruelty to an animal you should contact your local law enforcement agency. As a witness, you will need to be able to provide information about the situation, such as:

    • WHAT is happening, i.e. a description of the incident(s) - this may include information about an animal's physical condition and/or an act that was committed against the animal.
    • WHO is committing the offense - name & description of the person or persons, as well as a description of their vehicle (if applicable) with a license plate number - as much information as you can gather.
    • WHERE is the incident occurring - specific location, including address & cross streets.
    • WHEN did the incident occur - date & time.

The more detailed you can be in your description the more evidence animal control will have to pursue your report. If others have also witnessed a particular animal being abused or neglected, ask them to report the incident as well - corroborating evidence supports your case. Animal control officers may not be available to respond immediately to a reported incident of animal abuse. Don't wait until an animal's life is in danger - if you suspect abuse, document it and report it to the appropriate law enforcement agency. You may also want to follow up with the law enforcement agency to find out if the situation fell under the legal definition of animal abuse, and if not, why.

If it turns out that a situation you feel is unhealthy for an animal does not fall within the legal definition of animal abuse, you may want to approach the owner and gently suggest different approaches to how they treat their pet. Many people were brought up with different ideas about pet ownership and/or may not understand a dog or cat's physical, mental and emotional needs. However, do not put yourself in a compromising situation; if they are not receptive to your input, it is a good idea to back off. You may continue to monitor the situation and report any additional developments to law enforcement.

You can help prevent animal abuse by taking care of the animals you have, and encouraging others to do the same. If you want to take a more active role in helping animals in your community you can volunteer at a local shelter or rescue, or donate to groups that support animal welfare.

Who Do You Report Animal Abuse To?

If the suspected incident of animal abuse occurs within city limits, you should contact that city's police department; they will coordinate with animal control officers to investigate your claim. If the reported incident occurs outside of city limits, contact the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department.

  • Eureka Police Deptartment: 707.441.4060
  • Arcata Police Deptartment: 707.822.2428
  • Trinidad Police Deptartment: 707.668.5895
  • Fortuna Police Deptartment: 707.725.7750
  • Rio Dell Police Deptartment: 707.764.5642
  • Humboldt County Sheriff: 707.445.7251

Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Abuse

My neighbor keeps his dog tied up day and night in the backyard. Is that cruelty? Effective January 1st, 2007 pet owners cannot chain or tether their dog to a stationary object for more than 3 hours in any 24-hour period, punishable by an infraction with a fine up to $250 or a misdemeanor punishable by a fin up to $1,000 and/or up to six months imprisonment.

The horse in the neighboring field stands in the wind and rain all day. Is that cruelty? As long as the horse has food, water and a place to stand up, and can turn around and lie down in an area that is not covered in water, that does not fall within the legal definition of cruelty.

My neighbor is shooting cats with a pellet gun. Is that cruelty? Absolutely. That is at least a misdemeanor, and may be charged as a felony.

I believe my dog or cat has been poisoned. What should I do? Take your animal to a local veterinarian immediately. Save any food products that may have been thrown over the fence that the dog or cat may have eaten. That is evidence. A toxicology analysis will need to be done on the animal to determine why it got sick or died before cruelty can be proven.

When in doubt, contact your local law enforcement agency to discuss the situation with them. Remember that people who are cruel to animals are often violent toward children and other humans as well. By reporting suspected animal cruelty - You Could Be Saving a Life!