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Investigating Animal Cruelty? Suggested Procedures

This paper was written by Barrie R. Tapp, Senior Investigations for Animal Cruelty Hotline Australia, with the intention of helping you try to understand the frustration and red tape that exists in the animal welfare world whilst trying to help our friends the animals.

Investigating an Animal Cruelty Complaint will be frustrating but can be most rewarding too

There are no rules when investigating an animal cruelty complaint, but you must always use your judgement & common sense in each situation. However, it is recommended that your response can be guided by the following suggestions:

What would a reasonable person do when confronted with a cruelty complaint in the first instance?

No 1. Notify police, RSPCA &/or DEPI of your intentions and seek expert advice before entering into an investigation:

**Important phone numbers** RSPCA(operate 24/7), DEPI: 0356242277. This is the main number to call and it will be transferred to the appropriate areas). Or call Animal Cruelty Hotline (Aust) 1800751770 and we will assist with any complaint.

At the scene

Always take a camera with you and remember your first priority is your intention to help an animal in distress. When taking photographs ensure that they are taken outside the fence line, clearly showing the fence in the picture, as evidence that there has been no trespass or illegal entry. This is because, unless permission has been granted, you have no legal rights to enter any property or premises (unless of course you have an “authorisation under section 18 of the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals Act” - POCTA.)

Any witnesses? Note their names, addresses, phone numbers and any conversations had with them, & a follow-up contact.

Observe closely the conditions as you approach the property, and document them:

Note the condition/s of any other animal in view on the property that day?

Preparing for Owner Reactions: The owner or anyone responsible for the care of the animal may be present upon your arrival. This will be part of your most difficult time when investigating animal cruelty complaints and should only be done with an experienced and respected investigator if possible. Any confrontation with any owner of any animal can result in a response that can range from cooperation to abuse, so be PREPARED for anything. It is important to remember this when confronting an individual so be on your guard.

You may be faced with a situation in which animals are in a very bad condition. You may have already obtained signed statements attesting to the animals' condition. This may be in addition to your own observations. If it is a situation where you anticipate that confronting the owner first will cause him to remove the animals before you have a chance to contact authorities, your best option would be to notify Police/RSPCA/or DEPI beforehand of your intentions. Anyway this should automatically be mandatory in the very first instance if you have already considered investigating this complaint and summed up the validity of the complaint.

Remember! If the animals are in close view, easy accessible, take photographs of them from a location where you are not trespassing. The photographs will become very useful in and as evidence in a Court case.

Animal's Condition and the Circumstances in which they are kept!

Based on the allegations that you have received with this complaint, anonymous or not, about an animal that you have personally observed in this situation, and in which in your opinion an animal is allegedly neglected or abused, take notes at the time. Remember DO NOT put yourself in a position that would endanger yours or any other person’s life or welfare at any time.

Notes should contain:
- Arrival at the scene, times etc.
- Condition of neglect/abuse/cruelty.

Your assessment of the circumstances and conditions will determine how you proceed further. If the complaint concerns a quantity of animals (presumably farm animals) you need to report this to the DEPI as soon as possible because they are the authorised agencies empowered to investigate “farm”animals as per the legal definition. In turn they also have a memorandum of understanding with the RSPCA regarding investigations of farm animals (also known as MOU) in this state! Report immediately!!!

All reports and complaints MUST go to DEPI Animal Health compliance manager (phone 56242277). This is then given to the appropriate area of concern or call centre on 136186! I have found this service great at all times.

Take notes at the time. Examples below as listed:

- Animal/s are very thin (describe condition eg; hip bones, ribs, pelvic bones visible etc.)
- Animal is scratching or rubbing against fences, alleging from mange or lice or some other disease.
- Animal has sores on its body (describe them how big, weeping, open bleeding)
- The animal is limping/indicate the veracity and which leg.
- Appears living in filth, squalid conditions (describe the conditions in detail)
- Conditions/elements of the weather hot sun temperature, raining, windy. (as animals without shelter in the hot sun or wet conditions could die)
- The animal/s do not have proper shelter (for example, what is the shelter provided on the day and does it suit the size and entry for the animal)
- Water bowl overturned (if domestic animal)/ no fresh water available and check for any dams(for ruminants large farm animals)
- The animal's general appearance without exaggeration (describe in detail eg; lethargic, not interested in your presence slow moving etc.)

Note: If an owner is not at home, and your observations indicate that an animal IS being neglected in your opinion, immediately contact the proper enforcement agency (e.g. RSPCA/Police/DEPI) to investigate the complaint.

If you feel confident and you have followed all protocol and legal requirements and feel confident, try the following suggestions:

Attempt to talk to the owner and ask to examine the animal but also keep in mind that you are not a vet.

Discussion with the Owner:

Discuss the welfare of the animal and ask how the situation evolved for the animal/s to get into the condition that they are now in. (Take notes)

If the owner wants to surrender the animal for the sake of its well being always obtain a written statement granting permission for you to seek arrangements from your local welfare agency to take care and control of the animal/s.

Make totally sure that before any animal/s are removed from the property you first seek the aid of the relevant welfare agency (or local/ranger officer) and a veterinarian to gain a clear health bill before the animal/s can be transported. (MANDATORY.)

PLEASE NOTE: These are recommendations only!

You must use your own judgment and always remember that you have NO AUTHORITY under the animal welfare legislation in this state as a lay person. Under the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act in the state of Victoria the only persons with this authority to enforce these powers are “general inspectors” that are “authorised by the Minister in writing under section 18 and 18A for specialist inspectors.” This is what is known as an “approval” from the Minister. Only these general Inspectors can enforce & and prosecute under all sections of the “Act”!

If a complaint is in the country or a remote area it is always advisable and MANDATORY (in my own personal experience) that you always notify police or RSPCA/DEPI of your intentions and if possible take another person with you. At all times when we have complaints to investigate in country or remote areas our first priority is to visit the local police station and advise them of your intentions.

Points to remember!!!

Record ANY statements and conversations that the owner/or any other persons may make.

Contact the animal welfare animal agency(RSPCA/DEPI/LOCAL LAWS/POLICE) and ask them to visit the scene BUT only when all your information is collated and you feel that the complaint is genuine, as resources are limited with most animal welfare agencies especially RSPCA, and that is the reason that we do the legwork for them prior.

Photograph the animal/s and all surroundings and NEVER let this film out of your possession at any time as this is vital evidence and continuance of possession is also vital in a court of law.

Have a veterinarian in attendance if possible as vets are expert witnesses( but very costly.)

NOTE: Always keep your office informed at all times and never try to be a hero!

***Do NOT ever put yourself or any other person in any danger whilst gathering any information or evidence. It is only your mandate to gather, collate, and assist an animal that is all. You are not qualified nor are you a trained investigator. ** (REPORT AND ASSIST THE ANIMAL AND RETREAT GRACEFULLY!) ****

Arriving at the scene

Example of an urgent case of alleged cruelty complaint!

Animals in locked car/or behind locked door: Consider the following:

If circumstances involve an animal suffering from heat exhaustion, such as a dog in a hot car, call police to remove the animal from the circumstances immediately.

Take the animal to a veterinarian for treatment, if necessary with the permission of the police.

PLEASE TAKE NOTE!! Entering Property? Some Considerations & Answers! There are NONE. Never even consider entering into or onto someone else’s property illegally no matter what the circumstances are. Full stop!!


You may receive a complaint that an animal has been left without food or water for several days and, appears to be abandoned. In this situation it is especially important that you must obtain a statement from any complainant to establish how long the owner has been gone and how long the animal has been without feed/water! And report it immediately to the animal welfare agency.

Arriving at the scene in the case of alleged abandonment.

When you arrive at any property, announce your arrival, and look for the owner/occupant. Knock on the front door to see if anyone is at home. If no one answers go to the rear of the house and knock on the back door, then shout out for the owner/occupant. (This is not classed as an illegal trespass as anyone is entitled to this privilege.) Look for the animal that IS the cause of the complaint and any other animals that may be on the property.

Exercising this type of behaviour calling out, looking for the owner demonstrates a "good faith" effort in finding the owner/occupant while doing your job and attempting to assist an animal in need.

If you discover an animal on the property determine what circumstances now exist for you to solve this case scenario.

The animal you have sighted appears to be in a neglected state but not in danger of dying: Feed/water it IF your investigation has led you to believe that it may have been abandoned. If you cannot see any animal but hear sounds inside a locked house you must call for legal assistance. In either case consider the following approach:
Talk to the neighbours, to determine how long the owner/occupant has been gone. Obtain signed statements, if possible.

Based on the input you receive report immediately to the authorities.

Most of the animal related complaints you receive deals with neglect and abuse. They will generally involve the “failure to provide” which means the animals:

- are not being fed or watered properly,
- are lacking an appropriate shelter,
- are not being exercised
- living in unsanitary conditions, or
- needing veterinary care.

Though many complaints may be anonymous, you should still investigate them. Most anonymous complaints are legitimate; people often refuse to give their names because they fear reprisal.

Questions to ask with regard to animal complaints

Regardless of whether the complaint is anonymous or not ask the following questions:

- What is the name and address of the alleged abuser (if known)? Can you describe what he looks like?
- What types of animals are involved in the complaint, and how many of them are there?
- Why do you believe the animals are being abused or neglected? And for how long?
- Where are the animals confined? Can the animals be seen from the road side or through a window?
- When was the last time you saw the animals and have you seen them recently?
- What were the weather conditions at the time of the abuse or neglect? Was the weather extremely hot or cold.
- What are the directions to the location of the complaint? What road, landmarks to get to the property.

You should investigate the complaint as soon as possible to bring relief to the animals that are suffering.

Call the RSPCA/DEPI/POLICE of your intentions at all times.

REPORT! REPORT! REPORT!! My best suggestion to all who are involved in animal welfare and that is to obtain a Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act also known as POCTA and read it!!You can get these at a print out from your local library.

Some Common Excuses You Will Hear!

Be aware that in many cases, the “abuser” makes these excuses in an effort to avoid being punished.

“The animal is thin”. The truth is that animal is not being fed enough nor has a serious case of internal parasites.

Excuses: (Heard them all I’m afraid)

- Oh, I guess we take him on too many walks. He must be getting too much exercise.
- He's always been a thin dog.
- He is such a fussy eater lately.
- His mum was thin, too.
- You should have seen him when we got him. He's put on a lot of weight since then.
- He's being treated by a vet. This may or may not be true and must be checked out as soon as possible.

Your possible responses:

- Where and when did you get the animal?
(Consider checking with that person or place as to the condition of the dog when it was given to the person.)
- Who is your veterinarian? When did you last have the animal examined?
(If they give you the name of the veterinarian, check with the veterinarian to see when the animal was last seen and its condition at that time.)
- When do you plan to have him vetted again?
(Make sure the person gives you a reasonable time frame, within the next few days. Check with the veterinarian to ensure the animal was seen and to determine the veterinarian's opinion of the animal.)
- What do you feed the animal every day and how much?
(When they respond with the amount of food they give the animal, consider telling them that given the condition of the animal, that amount of food does not appear to be proper or adequate.)
- He must have drunk it all. I gave him a big bowl this morning.
Your possible response:
Get it water now please
- Every time I give him water, he knocks his bowl over!
Your possible response:
That means he is not getting enough water so supply a bigger bowl.
- He knocks over that water bowl all the time.
Your possible response:
Get a bowl that doesn't tip over.

Animals that are kept outside, shelter must be available at all times as per the “ACT” and codes of practices apply and must be abided by: “proper and sufficient shelter"!


**Important phone numbers** RSPCA(operate 24/7), DEPI: 0356242277. This is the main number to call and it will be transferred to the appropriate areas). Or call Animal Cruelty Hotline (Aust) 1800751770 and we will assist with any complaint.

This paper was written by BARRIE R.TAPP SENIOR INVESTIGATIONS FOR ANIMAL CRUELTY HOTLINE AUSTRALIA with the intention of helping you try to understand the frustration and red tape that exists in the animal welfare world whilst trying to help our friends the animal. PHONE 1800751770 FREE CALL 24/7”