As animal lovers, it’s hard to think about how indifferent or cruel people can be towards our fellow creatures. Fortunately, animals have people like us who care about them and are working to make the world a better place for them. Since April is Prevent Cruelty to Animals month, now is the perfect time to stand up and speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. Here are four ways you can help prevent animal cruelty:

1.  Recognize

Animal cruelty and neglect takes many forms, from a pet left in a car on a hot day to a neighbor who Blue-eyed dog looking attentively updoesn’t provide adequate food, water or shelter for their pet. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) offers this overview of types of animal cruelty, with neglect being the most common. Animals who are victims of hoarding situations, those who do not receive veterinary care, and those who are abandoned are all considered cases of neglect.

Sometimes abuse is obvious, such as a person openly hitting or kicking their pet, but often the signs are subtle and require paying attention to details about the animals or their environment. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers a guide to what to look for in cases of suspected cruelty and neglect.

Common physical signs for cruelty and neglect include:

  • Untreated rashes and patches of missing fur
  • Flea or tick infestations
  • Extreme thinness
  • Excessive discharge from the eyes or nose
  • No protection from the cold
  • Being chained outside for long periods without food and water

2.  Document

It can be traumatizing to witness animal cruelty and neglect, and tempting to turn the other way. However, it’s important both to pay attention to what you see and to keep careful documentation. This information may be useful in prosecuting the abuser.

Be sure to write down the dates and times you witnessed incidents of cruelty, as well as take detailed notes of the events. Having a cell phone camera makes it easy to film or photograph a scene, whether it’s an act of physical violence or an animal’s condition or living quarters. As the HSUS writes, cell phone photos and videos have been excellent evidence in fighting cases against abusers.

3.  Report

First, if you witness someone being physically violent towards an animal, call your local police Dog standing at a desk to report somethingimmediately. Not only is your action crucial to the well-being and even the life of the animal, it may reveal a larger pattern of abuse that this person has towards humans as well. The connection between animal cruelty and violence towards humans is well documented; among many alarming statistics, the HSUS shares study findings indicating “in families under supervision for physical abuse of their children, pet abuse was concurrent in 88% of the families.”

Though your first step in reporting abuse can be to contact your local police, you may be referred to a local animal control department or humane society. You may also research on your own what animal welfare organizations are in your area and contact them in addition to your local police department. As organizations vary so widely depending on your location, it may take a little digging to determine who is nearby to help. One place to start is by searching the Shelter Pet Project database of animal shelters. For more help, HSUS offers this Ohio-specific guide to reporting animal abuse. And finally, you can simply search online for the name of your town or city plus the words “humane society.”

When you make your report, be sure to:

  • Make copies of your documentation before sharing
  • Keep a record of the time, date and details of your report, including the name of the person or officer taking the report
  • Follow up to find out what action was taken

While you may wish to remain anonymous, sharing your name and contact information as a credible witness could make it more likely that the case would be pursued against an abuser. Also, keep in mind that resources are stretched thin at most law enforcement agencies and humane societies, and be polite in your follow-up.

4.  Advocate

Speaking up for the status of animals in general is a critical step in ensuring stronger animal cruelty laws. A cat looking out from the computer with paws on the keyboardThe Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) offers an overview of ways you can be a voice for animals, including writing letters to the editor, attending animal cruelty hearings, or working to end puppy mills.

It’s particularly important to let your legislators know that you want to see stronger anti-cruelty laws. This can include calling or writing to ask them to support animal protection bills. A number of organizations, including the ASPCA and the ALDF, offer advocacy alert services that will email you notifications about pending legislation in your area. For those who would like to take it a step further, you can even visit your legislators at the HSUS’s Annual Humane Lobby Day on April 21, 2015.

Although witnessing animal abuse is very distressing to those who love animals, you have the opportunity to bring positive change to animals who need your help. Being thorough and organized, as well as caring and determined, are your biggest aids in speaking up for our fellow creatures. For those animals whose lives you change, your efforts are priceless. – Meredith Southard

An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.

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