How to Help an Abused or Neglected Dog

What should you do if you suspect a dog is being neglected or abused?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #48

It looks and smells god-awful, but reflects nothing more sinister than an immature immune system.

If what’s going on obviously violates animal protection laws, try to document the situation, and call the police.

What to Do When a Dog is in Danger

What about an emergency, where the dog is being beaten or otherwise injured, or is in danger of death? Intervening yourself is risky, just as it is when a human’s being assaulted. If what’s going on obviously violates animal protection laws, by all means call the police. Take pictures if you can. New York State, where I live, has a law against leaving companion animals in unventilated cars during hot weather; you can find your own state statutes online to learn what protections they afford.

Animal Protection Laws Vary Widely

Coverage ranges widely. In some places, it’s illegal to keep a dog indefinitely chained. Most of the statutes I looked at require that an outdoor dog have adequate shelter--a cringe producer for those of us who believe no pet dog should be living outdoors at all. Sadly, the American Humane Association reports that in Idaho, North and South Dakota, and Mississippi, cruelty to animals is not a felony.

What to Do If You Know the Dog Owner

When the dog in question belongs to a friend or neighbor, you might have more to work with. Maybe the problem grew out of difficult circumstances that you and other friends can help with. Say your neighbor isn’t taking his obviously ill dog to the vet. Maybe he doesn’t care, but on the other hand maybe he lost his job and can barely pay for dog food right now. Can you research sources of low-cost veterinary care? Even something that simple might not occur to a person under stress. Misa’s mother offered to take the hospitalized man’s dog for grooming. Sadly, he refused—but not everyone will.

Tread carefully if the dog needs veterinary or other care that the guardian can’t or won’t provide. Legally speaking, animals are property, so simply taking away a mistreated animal may be considered theft. And veterinarians require the owner’s consent for any procedure involving sedation or anesthesia. Besides, as the American Humane Association points out, taking an animal away does nothing to prevent the person from getting another and treating him or her just as badly as the first.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).