Reporting animal abuse just got easier

“Veterinarians who want to report suspected animal abuse often encounter a bureaucratic runaround,” says Phil Arkow. Arkow hopes that the recent launch of a free online National Directory of Abuse Investigation Agencies will help.

Arkow is Coordinator of the National Link Coalition, a multidisciplinary, collaborative initiative formed in 2008 to raise awareness of the connection between animal abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence. It’s based on the idea that violence begets violence, and that when animal cruelty or neglect exists in a home, chances are that children, domestic partners, or elderly family members are being hurt, too.

In short, when animals are abused, people are at risk. And when people are abused, animals are at risk.

Arkow and his colleagues call this species-spanning interconnectedness The Link. Their goal: to stop the cycle of violence that often affects multiple family members. Including pets.

Who can be harder to help than humans.

“Unlike the simplified statewide hotlines for child abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse, the animal protection field is extremely fragmented with no national or statewide coordination of services,” Arkow said. “Each local agency operates independently with its own varying degree of enforcement powers, resources, training, organizational capacity, and program priorities.”

The new online Directory will help veterinarians negotiate that informational maze. Created in response to laws in 36 states, and policies from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which require or permit veterinarians to report cases of suspected animal cruelty, the Directory  covers more than 6,500 counties, cities, and towns, and identifies which agency in that jurisdiction investigates reports of suspected animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect.

Compare that to the way it usually happens.

“A caller to an animal control or humane agency may be told to call law enforcement,” Arkow said. “The police or sheriff may say they are not trained in animal welfare issues and to call animal control. The result is a veterinarian who gives up in frustration and animal abuse that goes unresolved. Our goal is for people to use the directory to cut through the confusion.”

A big part of the problem, according to Arkow: the investigation of animal welfare complaints is not systemized. Depending on the jurisdiction, reports may be investigated by a humane society, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), local animal control services, police, or sheriff. 

To add to the confusion, not all animal care and control agencies have sworn officers empowered to file charges against suspected abusers. Some agencies are species-specific and may not be allowed to investigate cases involving cats or livestock. And contrary to popular belief, local humane societies and SPCAs are not branches of national organizations.

The Directory is free and online at

An interactive map lists the names and phone numbers of 6,513 animal cruelty investigating agencies organized by county and city within each state.

To make it easier to use the Directory, the National Link Coalition recommends that veterinarians and hospital staff establish a protocol for situations where they suspect a patient might be experiencing  abuse. The Coalition’s practice management guidelines are available here.  

Photo credit: (c) iStock/jmpaget


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