How to save & take care of a kitten and feral cats - an advocacy tool kit

Reporting Animal Cruelty

Guide/How-to| Anti-Cruelty

If an animal is in immediate danger, call the police right away. Do not wait.

Do you know what to do if you see someone abusing an animal, or if you find what you believe is an abused animal? Witnessing abuse is traumatic, and it can be hard to keep calm and focused. Knowing what to do before you need to do it will help you accurately and effectively report animal cruelty, which will help animals in your community achieve safety and justice.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws criminalizing acts of cruelty toward animals and include felony animal cruelty offenses. Cruelty is generally defined as intentionally or maliciously inflicting unjustifiable pain, suffering or death but what’s considered cruelty from a legal perspective, and the penalties involved, vary from state to state. Your city or county may also have a local ordinance or resolution that may be even more specific and contain language that the state level does not have that may pertain to your case. It’s important to look at both, so learn how to find laws that relate to animal cruelty.

Alley Cat Allies stands against all acts of cruelty to all cats. We believe that every animal, owned or unowned, deserves to be protected from human cruelty. Learn more about Anti-Cruelty.

All acts of animal cruelty should be reported and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

How to Report Animal Cruelty

  • Call the police. Whether or not you know who is responsible, it’s important to alert your local authorities that a crime has taken place and get an official police record of the incident.
  • Document what happened. At a minimum, you will need to provide a clear and concise written statement of what you observed, including:
    • Date
    • Time
    • Location
    • People who were involved
    • People who may have witnessed the abuse

    Do this as soon as possible so you can remember all the details accurately. Take photos and video if you can do so safely and without trespassing. Do not edit the footage you gather in any way and get as much as you can. Providing proof to police for their report will go a long way in leading to the arrest of those involved.

  • Do not contaminate the body of the animal, if there is one. It’s important to keep the physical evidence as protected as possible. If you are moving the animal gloves should be worn. Avoid touching your own face, hair, and body before handling any evidence. Just like at any other crime scene you want to disturb the evidence as little as possible. A necropsy should be performed as soon as possible. If you are unable to have a necropsy performed immediately the animal should be refrigerated (not frozen!) to preserve the tissue.
  • Keep a copy of the information you collect. Documents could get lost or destroyed, so keeping a copy (or two!) is important. It’s also helpful if you need to share the information. While you can report cruelty anonymously, police are more likely to pursue cases when witnesses are willing to stand by the report and, if necessary, testify in court. When communicating with law enforcement, it’s best to:
    • Speak in a clear and calm manner
    • Ask for help rather than demand action
    • Follow up to learn about the status of a case

If you are a community cat caregiver, see our information on what to do if a cat you care for has been intentionally injured or killed.

A note about neglect: Neglect is also a kind of animal cruelty that can be reported to police. Neglect includes failure to provide food, water, shelter or veterinary care, as well as hoarding and abandonment of animals.

Sometimes neglect is the result of a caregiver’s lack of education or resources. In these cases, neglect can be addressed through community outreach, including education provided through your local humane society, connecting the caregiver with donated, low-cost and discounted animal care products and services, and involvement of social workers. There should always be follow-up to ensure that the caregiver continues to provide the proper standard of care for the animals.

Reporting Animal Cruelty Posted Online

Sometimes you may come across stories, photos, or videos online that appear to show acts of animal cruelty. These acts can also be reported.

Be aware that some people post photos or video depicting animal cruelty just to upset others. These posts can be old, misleading, or fabricated altogether. The images and videos may not be proof that an animal was actually harmed.

How to Report Animal Cruelty Online

  • Try to verify the post. When you find a photo or video online that appears to depict cruelty, you should try to determine if it is legitimate by using these approaches:
    • Check the date. Sometimes old posts recirculate on social networks. A photo from 2008 can show up years later, when the original issue has already been resolved or when action would no longer be productive.
    • Do an image search. You can help determine the origin of a photo by doing a reverse image search. This can help you find the source of a photo, and help you tell if a photo is old or fabricated.
    • Consider the source. When you find where a photo or video has originated, try to assess if the source is legitimate. If a source includes a variety of images depicting similar acts, or other types of upsetting or divisive content, the material may be fabricated, misleading or otherwise disingenuous. Some website and social media profiles are dedicated to “trolling” or making deliberately offensive or disturbing posts with the aim of upsetting people or eliciting an angry response.
  • If the image is posted on a social network:
  • If the image or video is posted on a website:
    • Get the URL of the website where the image is hosted. You’ll find the URL in the location bar of your web browser, or when you right click the image and select “image address” or “image location.” Copy and paste it exactly and save it so you can refer back to it when you need to.
    • Take a screen capture of the image or post or save the webpage as a PDF. Most computers have a way for you to take a picture of your screen. Your web browser should also have an option for you to save the webpage or print it as a PDF. Taking a screen capture or saving the webpage will document the post in case it is changed or removed later.
    • Look up the contact information of the website. You can find information about the website by visiting and inserting the website’s URL. The information should include where the URL is registered, and the contact information of the site’s owner.
      • Contact the website host. The information should include registrar information. You can use this information to contact the company where the URL is registered to report its terms of service may be violated by the content on the website.
      • Save the contact information. The information should also include the address, phone numbers, and email of the person or company listed as the site owner. Save this information so you can share it with the appropriate authorities.
  • Report the post to authorities
    • Local authorities Contact the authorities local to the area where the website originates, or where the apparent act of cruelty has taken place. Share the URL and contact information you’ve collected.
    • Federal authorities If the photo or video is in violation of a federal law, you can contact federal authorities.
    • You can also report the site to the Humane Society of the United States.