Preventing and, when appropriate, prosecuting animal cruelty is a priority for Ms. Boston, who has created the Office’s first-ever Special Victims Unit, whose mandate includes overseeing the prosecution of animal cruelty cases. The Office regularly participates in community events to help educate the community about how to prevent and detect abuse of animals. The key to preventing neglect is education. Some owners just aren't aware of how important affection is to a pet or even that a puppy can outgrow her collar.
For most of us, pets are an extension of our family. But, sadly, not everyone feels that way and engages in violent behavior towards or neglects animals in their care. Examples of animal cruelty include overt physical abuse, dog fighting, and denying an animal companion basic necessities of care such as food, water, or shelter.
In Georgia, animal cruelty is defined as:
- Causing death or unjustifiable pain or suffering to any animal by an act, omission, or willful neglect. This misdemeanor offense carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
- Any person who knowingly watches a dog fight is guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature for the first incident and a felony for the second incident.
- Knowingly and maliciously causing death or physical harm to an animal by rendering a part of the animal’s body useless or by seriously disfiguring the animal is a felony offense. It is also a felony to cause or allow a dog to fight another dog for sport or gaming purposes or maintaining or operating any event at which dogs are allowed or encouraged to fight one another.
It’s easier to recognize physical abuse when you see choking, setting tails on fire, dunking heads under water, dog fighting, or denying an animal the basic necessities of care, such as food, water or shelter.
Here are other signs:
- Tight Collar: Not increasing the size of a collar as an animal grows causes injury, strangulation and death.
Lack of Grooming: Without regular grooming, a pet, especially a long-haired one, can get massive matting and sores.
Mange: Caused by tiny parasites, mange leads to itching, loss of hair and sores from scratching and biting to relieve the irritation. Mange is easily treated with medicated baths.
Starvation: Starvation is caused not only by lack of food, but also by improper food, untreated disease and parasites (like worms).
If you do witness physical abuse, you'll probably be outraged and want to confront the abuser. Avoid that impulse, unless you're positive that a friendly, informal chat will make that person more caring toward his pet.
If you can safely take photos or video of the incident, do so. This firm evidence is invaluable to investigators and prosecutors. In the case of a child abusing an animal, the parent may be unaware of the behavior. But because animal abuse has been linked with other types of abuse in the home — namely, domestic violence — it's better to let the authorities investigate. You can call DeKalb County Animal Services & Enforcement: Animal Cruelty Unit at 404.294.2818.
Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence
If a family is experiencing domestic violence, pets often can become targets as well. Abusive family members may threaten, injure or kill pets as a way of threatening or controlling others. And, people who abuse animals are more likely to abuse other family members. A study showed that an estimated 88% of animals in households in which mental/physical abuse occurs, the family pet is injured or killed when the victim tries to leave.
Children who witness or experience abuse are more likely to abuse animals, even when they are adults. A child’s violence against an animal often represents displaced hostility and aggression stemming from neglect or abuse of a child or of another family member. Children’s intentional acts of cruelty toward animals should always be taken seriously. Cruelty is not a phase of normal childhood development and may be a sign that a child needs help.
What can citizens do?
The enforcement of animal cruelty laws begins with the individual. If you see something, please say something—notify the police and/or DeKalb County Animal Services of any suspicious activities that suggest dog fighting is taking place in your community.If these authorities agree that there's the possibility of neglect or abuse, they will investigate and decide how to help the animal.
Owners often neglect their pets because they don’t understand their pets’ needs. Animal Services officers help by explaining how to correctly care for pets. But some owners neglect their animals because they just don’t care. When confronted by an officer from Animal Services, these owners may decide to give up the animal instead of being bothered with properly caring it.
If the pet is seriously unhealthy or obviously abused, Animal Services may take it into protective care during the investigation. If charges are brought against the owner, you can offer to testify or sign a complaint. In the case of violent abuse, witnesses are rare, so you may be the only person who can testify about the incident.
Animal Services tries to respond quickly to complaints, but get a lot of calls every day and can't always respond the moment you call. If you're concerned for the animal's immediate safety, call 911 and also share that information in your voicemail messages for Animal Services.
Don't try to rescue a pet from a potentially abusive or neglectful environment yourself. Not only is this illegal, but you haven't stopped the owner from getting another pet to abuse, or helped turn him into a caring, responsible owner.
If you have questions about how the case will progress through the legal system, feel free to contact Animal Services and Enforcement or the Solicitor-General’s office.•
Where To Go For Help:
Animal Cruelty Unit of the DeKalb County Solicitor-General’s Office
To report Animal Cruelty, Neglect or Dog Fighting, contact:
DeKalb County Animal Services & Enforcement Animal Cruelty Unit:
24-hour Safe Haven for Pets Belonging to Victims of Domestic Violence
Atlanta Humane Society
Animal Action Rescue
Click here to download our brochure on preventing, detecting and reporting Animal Cruelty.