Coping with Fuzzy Lines in Animal Neglect

Last week, six dogs in poor condition were rescued from a home in deplorable condition in Bothell, WA. With the animals’ hair matted, teeth rotting, and deformed feet, plus garbage and feces littering the property, it seemed a rather clear-cut case of animal neglect. But what do you do when people treat their animals badly, but not exactly illegally? It’s a question I’ve faced on several occasions, and as I raise my daughters to care kindly for animals, I struggle to explain why some animals are treated so poorly.

I spent my summers on a farm in Indiana, and every day after strolling across our field and past the little wood, I’d see a dog chained to her doghouse. I never saw her running free, never saw anyone walking her. They claimed that if they didn’t chain her, she’d roam the neighborhood. But that didn’t seem like a good excuse to me.

When I lived in Palo Alto, my family would pass certain fences on our twice daily walks and a dog on the other side would bark ferociously.  I could peek through holes in the fences and recognize that I never saw these dogs walking around the neighborhood – something very unusual because I knew dozens and dozens of the dogs who lived near me. Combined with their appearance and attitude, I was fairly certain the dogs never saw past the fence in their little yards.

In both of these cases, I didn’t feel like I could report the dog owners for abuse. I felt so terrible for these dogs, but didn’t really know what to do. I was almost willing the owners to do something illegal so I could finally take action. But nothing ever happened – I never had that moment of clarity when I felt I could finally call animal services and report the neglectful owners.

So I’d like to know how many of you have witnessed chronic poor treatment of animals in your community. When it’s not legal abuse, have you taken steps to protect the pets? What have you done to help the animals?


Catherine S.
Catherine S8 years ago

sadly many animals are not treated well because they are seen as a resource - and not alive. companion pets are neglected by most pet owners - just in irresponsible care. most of them are too lazy to brush their hair and care more about themselves or their kids. but mostly in this country i think people care a lot about animals and put a stop to it whenever they see it. however, in the case of your feature, "illegal" is a fine line and there many injustices can take place. in this way officials who are placed in this position need to be ethical in the protection of pets - or people (cops) or the law (judges). animals can probably teach us a couple things on it! near my house there was a husky that was chained to its patio in a small backyard - no water or anything and full of poop. the dog looked so sad and broke my heart. i reported it because the dog had no shelter - which it has to have if outside - and it stopped. i didn't see the dog again so i have to assume that the owner was either forced to surrender the animal or-the guy gave it up. some people shouldn't have pets any more than they should have kids

Adrienne Y.
Adrienne Y8 years ago

Suzy I commend you on being a responsible human! Unfortunately most people do not know what it takes to be a pet owner or to be owned by a pet. There are no rules or regulations and it's just like there are no laws, rules or regulations on being a parent.There are those that are irresponsible just like being a pet owner. Unfortunately we live in a disposable society. It throws away all the unwanted. Children and animals seems to top the list. I try very hard to school and screen people who adopt from us. So far only one has fooled me and that won't happen again. I teach children in the neighborhood about the ins and outs of dogs and how to NOT approach a strange one. I teach them how to love and care for animals. Love is not automatically hereditary just like hate it is a learned response. People have to start their children at a young age toddler even not to throw their stuffed animals but to be kind to them. It worked for me I have 3 responsible pet owners now who do not abuse or hurt. Just like everything else it starts in the home.

Mary C.
Mary C8 years ago

Kaya, call your local zoning board. Animal Control nor the police will do anything, and for most police, animal issues are beneath them.

Kaya R.
Kaya R.8 years ago

Mary C. -
I live in Burlington,VT. The calf is basically in the heart of the city, and I was convinced that they must be in conflict with zoning regulations, but the police beg to differ...It just doesn't seem right.

Suzy C.
Suzy C8 years ago

What I find frustrating is that people are allowed to own pets without any kind of training at all. I think many of the neglected/abused animals we see are in that position because the owner was not familiar with pet care and assumed it would be easy. Pet care is not easy, nor is it simple.

Of course, the logical thing to do would be to give the animal to a better home once it becomes clear that caring for this pet is not what the owner expected, but that would mean facing the discomfort of having created a bad situation, which most people are not willing to do. Overwhelmed with the responsibility, many just 'opt out' and start ignoring the animals needs.

I wish there was licensing needed to own pets, and that all pets were required to be spayed unless special breeding permits (including inspection of the breeding facility) were obtained.

BTW, I am not a dog owner. I know that dogs require a ton of care, and I have chosen not to make that commitment.

Elinor Israel
Elinor Israel8 years ago

I actually stole a dog in the middle of the night one time and took him to a good home. He had been tied up in the backyard all the time and had sores on his body. He cried all night long. We are the ones who gave him water. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and found someone who said they would take him. I don't feel guilty at all because I do not think animals are ours to neglect and abuse.

megan m.
megan m8 years ago

I never even knew the man across the street from me had a dog until the dog got out and ran down the street. The owner ran after him and the dog kept running farther away. I knew the dog probably thought it was a fun game of chase. When the dog finally came back, the owner grabbed him by his collar and yanked him up so the dog had to walk on his back feet all the way to the backyard gate. Before my neighbor put his dog back he hit his dog many times. I was appalled by this and I began to watch my neighbor very close after that.
A few months later this all happened again, and when I saw him beat that dog again, I called the police. The operator sounded concerned and sent a police officer over. When the officer arrived and I pointed him to the house he went over and looked in the backyard and talked to the dog owner. They were in the front yard laughing together! The cop left without saying anything to me and my neighbor brought his dog out and started to play with it like a middle finger to me. He was very rude to me from then on.

I know what I saw and what he did was cruel and wrong to the dog, but I suppose I did all that I could. I hope that poor dog doesn't get beat again.

What is really sad is that this guy's kid was watching the whole time. Now what kind of mentality do you think that poor child is going to grow up with? Maybe the child gets beat like the dog... who can know?

some people just shouldn't be allowed to be responsible for another's life.

Nancy B.
Nancy B8 years ago

The local SPCA where I live in Virginia will send people out to talk to owners who keep their dogs outside all the time, or chained up. Some of these people can be talked into relinquishing their dogs. It takes a certain degree of diplomacy, as well as having the facts straight. But an argument can be made that may seem convincing to the owner. I'm sure there must be statistics that prove backyard guard dogs are not a real deterent to criminals. That might be one way to approach borderline neglectful dog owners. I agree that if you're going to keep your dog outside all the time, why have one?

Also, I would say report it if nothing else works. All Animal Control can do is tell you it doesn't meet the legal definition of abuse/neglect. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say. Reporting it over and over, everytime you see the neglect happening, may result in Animal Control at least talking to the owner about it. They can also get them for related things like not being up-to-date on rabies shots, inadequate shelter, incessant barking, etc.

And Mary C, I'm with you all the way...why so many idiots think they need to breed pit bulls is beyond me. It's all about money, of course, a quick and easy buck, resulting in SO MANY pit bulls winding up in shelters. However, I would disagree that the majority of pit owners are irresponsible -- it's a decent percentage but not the majority. Many folks love and cherish their pits as family members.

Denise Tankha
Vijay Tankha8 years ago

There can be no diplomatic manner in dealing with people who neglect their pets. I feel that one has a duty, as a human being to go up to the owner and remonstrate. So what if you're bawled out, at least the neighbourhood will become aware that a monster lives in their midst.

Geraldine D.
Geraldine Dutka8 years ago

Dogs should be part of the family and treated with respect and love. People who are not mindful of the needs of their pets should have them removed for re-housing. I reported someone in my neighbourhood in suburban Melbourne, Australia as they had a large black rabbit and guinea pig in an enclosure, which was inadequate in size, in the front garden under a shady tree. Whilst the position was fine, the "cage" which was triangular in shape, in my opinion, was quite inadequate in size and did not provide shelter from cats, possums or worse still foxes, which could attack these defenseless animals. I reported to the RSPCA and the criteria for them was that the rabbit should be able to behave as it would in the wild, i.e. move around freely and jump in the air as rabbits do naturally. I noted the animals were removed and hope the owners found a more suitable enclosure for them as they did appear to be otherwise well looked after. Adequate shelter, suitable food and clean water are bare minimum basic requirements for any pet and MUST be legislated for or we cannot call ourselves a decent, civilised and compassionate society. Also using aggressive dogs as theft deterrants on business properties should be banned. I urge everyone to speak out and take action if they are aware of any abuse or mistreatment of animals.