SERIES: Individual Action & Animal Welfare
Cruelty Against Companion Animals:
Types Observed & Steps Needed
by Satavisha Ghorui
Although most countries now have laws prohibiting animal cruelty and animal abuse, a law is only as good as its adherence, which is why animals rely on us to protect them by addressing animal abuse whenever spotted. It is difficult to fully ascertain where such abuses may occur, but we must still keep ourselves informed of the issue and be prepared to undertake this life-saving work as much as possible.
Animals cannot speak up for themselves when humans mistreat them. While neglect may not seem as brutal a crime as abuse, failure to provide basic care required for an animal - especially pets who live in family-homes mostly out of sight - can be equally devastating. Severe neglect and extended periods of suffering can even result in permanent injury or death.
What are different types of cruelty against companion animals you should take note of?
- NEGLECT & ABUSE:
Neglect or failure to provide basic essential needs to a companion animal often makes up the vast majority of the cases that animal control officers and rescue volunteers encounter. If you notice that someone has denied their companion animal from accessing these basic needs, you are likely witnessing some form of neglect and should therefore take action.
Animal abuse, on the other hand, includes cases of physical violence against animals, malnourishment, abandonment, and tethering along with other forms of cruelty that can lead to the death of the animal involved. Like cases of neglect, abuse cases widely vary in severity. However, it is essential to recognise and address forms of abuse regardless of severity - there is no justification for harm against animals!
Here are some concrete examples of neglect and abuse which people often perpetrate against companion animals at home:
- Lack of Medical Attention:
Providing little to no veterinary care is a grave form of animal abuse. Untreated wounds, scabs, hair loss, and emaciation are some of the common signs of lack of healthcare for animals that require immediate attention. Companion animals, like people, require regular checkups to evaluate their health and prevent the onset of harmful diseases as well; by denying animals access to healthcare, abusers ensure that their pets endure unnecessary suffering and premature death.
- Lack of Basic Necessities & Care:
Necessities for companion animals include: nutritious and adequate food; mobility (e.g. time allotted for walks and outdoor activities); good hygiene (teeth, fur/skin, etc); and ample care, expressed through affection and monitoring. A failure to care for a companion animal’s hygiene at home often intersects with a lack of medical attention. Carelessness - such as letting an animal roam the animal without providing care or responsibility - is also a form of neglect, as it can lead to car accidents and conflicts with people or animals.
- Chained Animals and Inadequate Shelter:
Pets who are abused and tethered for extended periods suffer physically and psychologically, both from social isolation and exposure to predators and other elements. Keeping an animal chained for long periods of time on a regular basis - often in balconies or to a gate outside - is an unacceptable and inhumane way of forcing them to live. Frequently, dogs kept tied outside in these situations are never or rarely allowed inside and are exposed to the elements no matter the weather. Inadequate sheltering or lack of living spaces can therefore also turn deadly for companion animals - an example being pets left tied outside in summer weather in Delhi, which can lead to heat stroke, dehydration, suffering and eventual death.
- Pets Left Locked in Cars:
Pets are also often left locked inside cars when the owner or caregiver is outside working. Even though the outside temperature seems cool, the temperature inside the car and the constrained space may lead to accelerated heart rate, heatstroke, and irreversible organ damage which can be deadly.
- BACKYARD BREEDING:
“Backyard breeders” usually run small-scale, profit-oriented breeding operations, where animal mothers and their litters endure atrocious conditions. (If you’ve heard the term “puppy mill,” it’s helpful to think of backyard breeding as a similar yet smaller-scale version of this.) Animals subjected to backyard breeding are typically denied necessities, experience severe abuse, and are considered as merely “products” to be sold - if not regarded as “disposable” by their breeders and new owners. Animals in these conditions are highly vulnerable to cruelty before and after they are sold, as there are not any background checks conducted on the parties involved. Moreover, backyard breeding can result in pups with deformities and illnesses, as such breeders are typically more interested in money than their dogs’ health. For more information, check out our article on The Reality of Dog Breeding.
- ONLINE SELLING & BUYING OF PETS:
According to The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, online buying and selling of pets are banned in India. The act elaborates on different terms and conditions under which a pet shop can be established and can conduct the buying and selling of pet animals; it intends to ensure adequate comfort and appropriate infrastructure for all the animals housed, along with veterinary care and daily needs. It has been observed time and again that most of these pets are bred in poor conditions and later sold without any vaccination or health checkup, which can be life-threatening to not only the pet but also the person buying. It is important to remember that online pet transactions are possible because of abuse and neglect, yet they also fuel future abuse by placing animals in new environments where they will be vulnerable to cruelty.
Consistent hoarding behavior - where a person effectively “collects” many pets at one residence - often leads to abuse of animal lives. Sufferers of hoarding disorders can end up imposing critical neglect on animals by housing animals in numbers larger than what they can care for. This overpopulation in constrained spaces leads to physical and psychological damage, which may create a negative emotional state in pets even after they leave the hoarding environment.
Surprisingly, a large number of companion animals die each year when their caregivers move out of their residences and leave them behind, either because their new residential areas do not allow pets to be kept or simply because they do not wish to continue taking care of their current companion animal. Many community animals were former pets whose owners discarded them, leaving them vulnerable to adapting to new conditions and a lack of human companionship. In other cases, companion animals have been discovered by neighbors or rescue teams inside empty residences, often without provision of food or water.
- ANIMAL FIGHTING & ORGANIZED CRUELTY:
Organized cruelty such as cockfighting, dogfighting, and various other forms of blood-sports is illegal in India and linked to other social harms like human violence against animals as well as drug distribution.
What can you do if you witness neglect or cruelty toward a companion animal?
There are various measures which you can take if you observe animal abuse at someone’s home.
- Collect Evidence
Firstly, remember to collect evidence if you can. Documenting the health or living conditions of a companion animal - whether by writing, photos, or video - is a useful way to substantiate your claims against a pet owner. Rescue organisations and other animal rights advocates will be better prepared to intervene and help the animal if they know the specifics of the neglect or cruelty which occurred.
- Initiate Dialogue
A difficult but important step you can take is to initiate a dialogue with the person(s) involved, if possible. Confronting the animal abuser is significantly more effective - and safer - if you do so in a group. In cases where the abuse or neglect is present but not severe, it can be helpful to provide information about forms of animal cruelty when you approach the person(s) involved. If the pet owner is receptive to learning more about appropriate and non-harmful ways of interacting with their companion animal - and, importantly, if the animal is not in immediate danger or great distress - then such situations can function as opportunities for change. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to follow up with this person to ensure that change is actually happening. Your action can be a major deterrent for future animal abuse.
- Propose Alternatives
Another option when approaching an animal abuser involves finding external solutions for the present situation. If the pet owner appears not to care whether they keep their companion, you can ask whether they would prefer to give up the animal. Subsequently, you can offer to try and help this person find a new home for the abused animal. Please note that it is not advisable to offer to care for the dog yourself - if you don’t have the means or a plan to do so, then this course of action is likely not sustainable. However, animal cruelty cases involve some level of personal responsibility for witnesses and reporters, so remember to follow up with the owner about your conversation and to continue acting on behalf of the vulnerable animal.
- Involve Authorities
In the event that the conversation does not lead anywhere promising - especially if you become aware of ongoing abuse or witness signs of cruelty - you can write to Manika Gandhi’s office by email. It’s important to include the address, phone number, and details of the person involved and to attach any proof (such as written, photographic, or video documentation) as well. PFA responds to many animal cruelty cases; their involvement can deter abuse in the relevant household, or at least pressure the owner to become more receptive towards giving up the animal.
- Do Your Research
Even if you’ve lived with a companion animal or engaged in rescue work before, there is always a lot more to learn about animal welfare. Set aside some time to read about non-harmful training techniques, dietary and hygiene habits, and behavioural / physical signs of cruelty to better recognise abuse and neglect in your community. Educating yourself also serves as a major opportunity to inform others as well; it may significantly help in the future if you find yourself needing to convince a pet owner to change their behaviour at home.
- Take Legal Action
If the person is unwilling to give up their animal for fostering/adoption after these steps, or in cases of severe abuse or neglect, there are other steps which you can take - even when the animal abuser doubles down on their “ownership” of the animal and their “right” to continue abusing it. If you find yourself in this situation, contact an NGO for references and advocate that they help take the dog away from the abuser. This extra step is absolutely critical if the abuser refuses to stop engaging in harm against animals. Like above, groups can be key here in pressuring the abuser to give up their animal.
- Be Persistent
Persistence and dedication to the animal rights cause have saved countless animal lives from abuse and neglect. Following up with the pet owner on a regular basis is a key mechanism for preventing future harm. Remember that while animals cannot advocate for themselves, having someone in their corner can mean the difference between suffering and thriving.
What action can you take after rescuing?
Hopefully, after enduring animal cruelty, the animal for whom you’ve advocated can leave this space and live elsewhere. In the event that the abuser gives up the animal, it is essential that you engage in rescue work if possible! Whether in coordination with a rescue organisation or on your own, you can attempt to place the companion animal with a foster family. While people typically foster companion animals on a temporary basis, this change of setting - a new environment rooted in care and compassion - can significantly support the animal’s physical, social, and psychological recovery. Some foster families become particularly attached to their new companions, so sometimes this setup can directly lead to adoption! If not, however, you can also seek opportunities to find a new forever home for the rescued animal through adoption elsewhere. Using social media and connecting with rescue organisations can be really helpful in coordinating adoptions. Your efforts in finding a new caring family can be truly life-changing for the rescued animal!
Animal cruelty is abhorrent in its own right and is often linked with violence against other members of the household. If animal abuse or neglect is noticed, it is one’s moral responsibility to report it for the sake of saving a life that essentially depends on us. In most cases, one may do so anonymously if there is a fear of reprisal. However, inaction does nothing to help animals in need. It is important to remember that you may be the only witness to the suffering of an animal in need, and your intervention can prove to be a crucial turning point in saving the animal’s life.