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December 06, 2016

What should you do if you witness animal abuse?

Pennsylvania SPCA offers tips on how to report mistreatment of pets

You're walking around your neighborhood, and you see a dog walker raise his or her hand to strike a defenseless pet. It's below freezing outside, and your neighbor's puppy has been chained up for hours in the frigid temperatures. The cat next door spends nearly all its time roaming around the street, and it's so skinny you can see its rib cage.

You may have found yourself in a situation like one of these before. You suspect an animal is being abused. But what you may not know is, what should you do about it?

Nicole Wilson, director of humane law enforcement at the Pennsylvania SPCA, said it's important to differentiate between active and chronic abuse.

If you see someone actively beating or hitting an animal, you should call 911. The SPCA has anywhere between four and six officers in Philadelphia at a time, while the Philadelphia Police Department has thousands, Wilson noted.

In situations where chronic abuse – an animal being left outside without shelter, for example — is suspected, you can call the SPCA's toll-free hotline at 1-866-601-SPCA. An officer is on-call until 11 p.m.

In every case, it's important to try and process what you're seeing when you think you're witnessing animal abuse.

"Obviously, somebody smacking a pit bull on the butt is different than fist-punching an animal," Wilson said.

When you're not sure whether a situation is abuse or not, Wilson said talking to someone can sometimes help the situation. For example, if a puppy is being left outside more often than normal, it may be discipline for an issue inside the home.

"Working with someone and asking them the reason for what they're doing can open up a dialogue between neighbors, as opposed to turning around and saying, 'You're terrible for doing that!'"

That being said, the SPCA encourages residents to reach out when they think they see abuse. SPCA officers specialize in education, Wilson said.

"So if someone has a concern and they don't feel comfortable approaching their neighbor, their dispatcher can discuss with them what they witnessed, whether it's cruelty or not, and if it's borderline, we'll send an officer out," Wilson said.

To report animal cruelty, contact the Pennsylvania SPCA's hotline at 1-866-601-SPCA or email More information can be found here.