Thursday, April 16, 2009

Help Prevent Cruelty Toward Our Four (And Three) Legged Friends

As much as we like to focus on the positive here at reboundhounds, we also can't ignore pressing animal welfare issues like cruelty and abuse. Dogs may become disabled from an injury, illness, or accident, but tragically, too many of our furry friends are also intentionally harmed by humans.

Kasha - the captivating Shepherd shown above - is in safe hands at Rolling Dog Ranch, but she hasn't always been loved and protected like she is now. Kasha was just a puppy when she wound up in a Spokane animal shelter with a missing paw. Veterinarians concluded that her foot had been deliberately chopped off. Furthermore, she was painfully underweight and extremely fearful. Fortunately, this story has a very happy ending: Kasha has adjusted to life as a happy-go-lucky tripod and she gets to play to her heart's content at the RDR sanctuary in Montana.

Not every dog is as fortunate as Kasha, however. The sad reality is that animal cruelty is rampant in the form of puppy mills, dog fighting, chaining, circuses, neglect, and more. Take heart, though, because animal lovers can be proactive! The ASPCA's Special Investigator Annemarie Lucas has compiled this list of ten ways to prevent animal cruelty:

1. Be aware. Without phone calls from the concerned citizens who report cruelty in their neighborhoods, we wouldn't know about most instances of animal abuse. It all comes from the public, it all starts with YOU—that's why it's so important to keep your eyes and ears open. Get to know and look out for the animals in your neighborhood. By being aware, you're more likely to notice, for example, that the dog next door who was once hefty has lost weight rapidly—a possible indicator of abuse.

2. Learn to recognize animal cruelty. Here are some signs and symptoms that we see in many of the cases we investigate:

-Tick or flea infestations. Such a condition, if left untreated by a veterinarian, can lead to an animal's death.
-Wounds on the body.
-Patches of missing hair.
-Extremely thin, starving animals.
-An owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal.
-Dogs who are repeatedly left alone without food and water, often chained up in a yard.
-Dogs who have been hit by cars-or are showing any of the signs listed above-and have not been taken to a veterinarian.
-Dogs who are kept outside without shelter in extreme weather conditions.
-Animals who cower in fear or act aggressively when approached by their owners.

3. Know who to call to report animal cruelty. We're lucky here at the ASPCA in New York City, because we have Humane Law Enforcement officers who have the power to investigate and arrest perpetrators of animal cruelty in the state of New York. But every state and even every town is different. In some areas, you may have to rely on the police department to investigate animal cruelty; in others, you may have to contact local animal control or another municipal agency. If you aren't sure where to report cruelty visit our Report Animal Cruelty section.

4. Provide as much as information as possible when reporting animal cruelty. The details that you provide can go a long way toward assisting the investigating officer. It helps to write down the type of cruelty that you witnessed, who was involved, the date of the incident and where it took place.

5. Call or write your local law enforcement department and let them know that investigating animal cruelty should be a priority. Animal cruelty is a CRIME—and the police MUST investigate these crimes.

6. Know your state's animal cruelty laws. These vary from state to state, and even from city to city. You can visit the ASPCA's online database of more than 550 animal cruelty laws—and their penalties—in all 50 states.

7. Fight for the passage of strong anti-cruelty laws on federal, state and local levels by joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade. It's frustrating when I have built a strong case against someone who has been arrested for cruelty to animals and the judge treats it like a simple violation. But with stronger laws, they'll be more likely to receive tougher penalties. As an ASPCA Advocacy Brigade member, you'll receive emails asking you to write letters encouraging your legislators to pass these laws-and you can send them directly from our website.

8. Set a good example for others. If you have pets, be sure to always show them the love and good care that they deserve. But it's more than just food, water, and adequate shelter. If you think your animal is sick, bring him to the veterinarian. Be responsible and have your animals spayed or neutered. And I always give my own pets lots of hugs when I get home!

9. Talk to your kids about how to treat animals with kindness and respect. I regularly see children in homes where animal abuse has been reported. If a parent isn't treating the family's pets right, I tell kids that their dog or cat would really appreciate fresh water every day, or if they spent some time playing with them. If the animal has been left outside without shelter, I'll say, 'You have a nice house, and if you get cold, you can put a coat on. But your dog can't do that. Don't you think he'd like a nice warm place to go, too?' I know of families who watch Animal Precinct together, and I think this can help children understand that animals are living creatures who have the ability to feel pain, joy and sadness. You can see these emotions on the faces of the animals on the show.

10. Support your local shelter or animal rescue organization. Before I even knew that police for animals existed, I was volunteering at an animal shelter. It's a great way to make a difference. Some of our ASPCA volunteers foster animals who have been abused in their former homes, giving these dogs and cats the chance they deserve to have a good life. You can find a list of shelters and rescue groups in your area in our National Shelter Directory.

When considering animal cruelty, it's important to note that neglect is also a form of abuse. Chained dogs face a particularly tragic plight as they spend day after day tethered alone outside. If you know of a chained dog in your neighborhood, I encourage you to approach the owner with a letter or flyer from Dogs Deserve Better. Both English and Spanish versions are available.

Finally, no discussion of animal cruelty can be complete without putting it in broader context as part of a cycle of violence. Numerous studies have verified that there is a distinct correlation between domestic abuse, child abuse, and animal abuse. Cruelty toward animals is both a predictor and a symptom: If an individual hurts animals as a child, it is more likely that he will go on to commit crimes as an adult; if animal abuse occurs within a household, it's more probable that other forms of family violence are also taking place.

The link between animal cruelty and domestic violence is particularly strong (click here for a fact sheet from the Humane Society of the United States). In light of this, an increasing number of animal shelters have begun partnering with domestic violence shelters to provide "safe havens" for pets. A directory of participating organizations is provided by HSUS.

Ultimately, it's up to us humans to advocate for the safety and well-being of the animals in our communities. By doing so, we will not only be doing right by them, we will also be contributing to a better world for all of us. To quote Albert Schweitzer, "Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind."

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