Longer days, warm weather, and the necessity of staying at home due to COVID-19 have led to a significant increase in individuals and families spending time outdoors. As you stroll around your neighborhood, you may encounter animal maltreatment. This maltreatment may be out in the open, such as an individual leaving a heavy chain around a dog’s neck in plain view. The maltreatment could be hidden and only suspected, such as overhearing a person yelling at an outdoor cat and hearing the cat cry out. How do you know when maltreatment is legally cruelty, and when do you report it?
This article aims to give you insight into what constitutes cruelty and how to report suspected cruelty. It provides practical information on animal maltreatment generally that will help empower you to protect the silent animal victims in your neighborhood.
Utah Humane Society’s Role in Animal Cruelty Calls
Do not report animal cruelty to the Utah Humane Society as we cannot legally investigate animal cruelty. The Utah Humane Society does not have police powers and has not had investigative powers since the 1990s. Reporting animal cruelty to us is not effective as we must simply call animal control on your behalf without all the details that you have from what you witnessed. We are always happy to guide you to the appropriate authorities, however.
Utah’s Animal Cruelty Laws
Utah specifically outlaws the following maltreatment of animals:
Failing to provide necessary food, water, care, or shelter for an animal in the person’s custody
Abandoning an animal
Injuring an animal
Causing any animal to fight with another animal
Administering poison or causing poison to be administered to an animal
Killing an animal* (killing an animal is legal if you have a legal privilege to do so, e.g., food production)
Torturing an animal** (torturing a companion animal, which is defined in Utah law as a domestic dog or cat, is a felony and therefore an elevated criminal offense)
When in Doubt, Report!
Chances are you are not a lawyer, and you are not a public safety officer, and as such, there is no reason why you should have to discern whether or not what you are seeing or hearing is animal cruelty. If you suspect something is off, report it. Better to err on the side of caution and be wrong than to ignore the potential maltreatment and allow an animal to suffer.
Over the past several decades, researchers have studied the interrelationship between animal abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence, and other forms of violence. Referred to as “The Link,” this interrelationship suggests that one type of violence tends to indicate the existence of or lead to other forms of violence. For example, if an animal is enduring maltreatment in a home where children are present, it is likely that the children are also enduring abuse. This is relevant because if you suspect animal maltreatment in a neighbor’s home and don’t want to report it because it is “just an animal,” remember that the animal is likely not the only one being abused. For more information on The Link, please visit the National Link Coalition’s website.
How to Report
Report to the Appropriate Authorities
The first step is to call the appropriate authorities. The National Link Coalition has a list of some of the main animal control offices in Utah available here. There are parts of Utah without animal control agencies. In those areas, you can report to your local police or county Sheriff’s department. If you are not sure who to call, you can always call the Utah Humane Society for guidance. We keep an updated list of all animal control services throughout the state of Utah.
The information needed to begin a formal inquiry is your name, your phone number, the address of where the potential cruelty has taken place, and a description of the potential cruelty, including any information on the animal (such as species and color) and the owner. If you have photos and videos that are obtained without trespassing, that is also beneficial.
If you wish to follow-up on the case, ask that the responding officer call you back with a case number. However, having a case number does not necessarily mean they can give you any information going forward. If an investigation remains open, they may need to protect details in order to preserve the case.
Please note that you may report animal maltreatment anonymously. However, if the case proceeds to prosecution, an anonymous person cannot be a witness. If you are the only person who has witnessed what happened to the animal, please consider being brave and going on record. You may be the key to a successful prosecution.
Animal Control Response
Utah’s animal protection laws are vague, meaning the statutes themselves will not define much of what constitutes certain provisions, such as “necessary shelter” or “injuring.” While this can be frustrating when determining whether or not to report an incident in your neighborhood, the positive flip side is that the vagueness gives animal control more discretion in enforcing the law. This discretion allows animal control to educate when appropriate and cite when education does not work.
Please be patient with law enforcement’s response. Sometimes, it may take several calls or incidents for an agency to be able to investigate. Beyond that, they need time to work a case. Know that this is their job and they take it seriously.