Question: What is the legal definition of "neglect," and what should people look for when advocating for possible cases of animal neglect?
Beth's Answer: The best and shortest definition of neglect is "permitting an animal to go without proper care and attention."
Question: What should people look for in advocating for possible cases of neglect?
Beth's Answer: Any animals that appear sick or thin should be reported, and, in California, dogs that are tied or chained for long periods of time. In some cases, the tethering system may be legal, but it is an opportunity to educate the owner on the importance of play and social contact for their dog. If the dog is chained, or otherwise illegally tethered, in California we can require that the dog be put on a trolley system.
Generally, anytime something doesn't "look right" or if an animal is crying continuously, that is a sign that something is wrong and should be investigated. And, of course, any act of deliberate abuse, such as kicking or beating an animal, not providing veterinary care to injured or diseased animals or not providing appropriate food or water should be reported immediately.
Malicious and intentional attacks on animals such as poisonings or abandonment without care can be charged as a felony in the state of California.
Remember that Animal Control agencies (which are tax-payer supported) and Humane Societies (which are privately funded by donors) are different from each other, so research your area to see what services your Humane Society offers and what services your local Animal Control agency offers.
Things that may seem helpful like giving an animal food or trying to take the animal yourself are often illegal and can compromise a crime scene, possibly harm the animal and negatively effect chances for successful prosecution.
Photo: Cat rescued from a hoarder in 2007 in deplorable conditions. This cat received veterinary care at the SPCA and was adopted to a healthy home. Photo © SPCA of Monterey County.
Thank you, Beth for doing this interview. Part four of this interview covers what you should do if you suspect that an animal is a victim of abuse or neglect.