How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in NY State – A Manual of Procedures

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Chapter 4. Common Complaints

This section discusses some common situations you may encounter when investigating animal cruelty complaints. Our objective is to make you aware of these situations and provide you with possible ways to respond to them.

At the end of each discussion are actual examples, along with related documentation (where available).

The situations we include are:

Neglected Pets
You may receive a complaint that an animal is not being fed or watered properly, not receiving medical care, not being provided with shelter, or all of the above.

These complaints are difficult to deal with because they are in the grey area ­ though the animal is not being subjected to outright abuse, the animal is suffering nevertheless.

Situations involving neglect generally occur because people acquired an animal on impulse and did not think through the responsibilities involved. Some examples include:

  • An owner acquired a dog as a puppy. When the puppy started to grow, the owner was unable to housebreak it, or the novelty wore off, or the dog got too big. The owner feels guilty taking the animal to the shelter; as a result, the dog is put outside and is only fed/watered when someone remembers.
  • An owner acquired a kitten, and it clawed the furniture; or it simply grew older and lost its cuteness, so it was deemed an outside cat and left to “fend for itself.”
  • An owner is ignorant of how to care for an animal or has lost interest in caring for it.

The causes vary, but the results are the same: neglected animals. The way people respond to your intervention will vary from being cooperative to acting hostile.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

  • Does the animal have access to clean water in a weighted bowl that cannot overturn?
  • Does the animal appear thin? Is there any evidence that the animal has been fed recently?
  • If the animal is a dog, and there is a path worn around where he is tied or the grass is nonexistent, it’s likely that he is tied out all the time.
  • Does the animal have access to shelter from the weather? If the animal is a dog, is the dog house appropriate to the size of the dog? Should this breed of dog be left outside at all? (See “Dogs” in the “Animal Care Standards for Some Common Animals” section.)
  • What is the condition of the animal’s coat and skin? Does it have areas where hair is missing? Is it constantly scratching at itself?
  • If the animal is a dog, how does the collar fit? It may never have been adjusted for growth. Is there room to put two fingers in between the collar and the dog’s neck?
  • Does the dog have a license and a rabies tag? Dogs in NYS must be licensed at 6 months and have current rabies shots.

For additional, more specific information related to animal care, see the Chapter 6 “Animal Care Standards For Some Common Animals” section.

Note: Be aware that when you are confronting people with the condition of their pet(s), they will tend to mislead you with regard to the care the pet has received. They will deny that they have neglected the animal and create excuses for its condition. See “Common Excuses You Will Hear” at the end of the “Investigating an Animal Cruelty Complaint” section.

What to do

The way you handle the situation depends on the circumstances of the animal and how the owner responds to your intervention.

If exigent circumstances exist, seize the animal

  1. If the circumstances of the pet are desperate – animals are emaciated, collar is embedded in the dog’s neck, halter is embedded in horse’s neck or cheek bone consider seizing the animal based on exigent circumstances.
  2. Call the local humane agency or animal control to transport the animal to the veterinarian.
  3. Take photographs of the animal and obtain a signed statement from the veterinarian as to the animal’s condition.
  4. Interview the owner. Based on his behavior and responses, decide whether or not to bring charges.

Non-exigent circumstances

For suggestions on how to approach the situation, see the Investigating an Animal Cruelty Complaint section.


  1. Neglected Pets: Lack of Shelter
  2. Neglected Pets: Lack of Food and Shelter
  3. Neglected Pets: Starving Mother and Puppies
  4. Neglected Pets: Starving Dog
  5. Neglected Pets: Multiple Animals
  6. Neglected Pets: Starving Animals in Apartment

Neglected Large Animals
Some of the most troublesome cases involve large animals and farm animals, such as horses, cows, goats, etc. because it is difficult to find places to keep large animals while a case proceeds through the court system.

You may receive complaints such as:

  • animals appear emaciated
  • animals are lying in a field and cannot stand up
  • horse(s) have broken from a pasture and are very thin, eating trees and shrubs

Occasionally, you may receive a complaint about someone transporting a farm animal in a cruel manner. See Example 9.

  • The costs involved. When people are short of money, they often cut down on their animals’ feed and veterinary care.
  • Related to this, there are cases where owners have intentionally not spent money to take care of animals (especially horses) until they were ready to breed them.
  • General ignorance. People are trying to run a farm or own horses, but do not know how to do it properly.
  • Revenge. In some cases (involving divorce), one side may try to hurt the other by not caring for the animals left behind.

There are various causes for the neglect of large animals, such as:

Things to be aware of when investigating:

  • There is no food or grain in sight. Pasture land is chewed down.
  • Horse’s stall is filled with manure buildup.
  • Animals are infested with lice and scratching at themselves to bring relief; hair may be missing in spots.
  • No clean, fresh water available.
  • No shelter available.
  • Horses’ hooves may be long or turned up indicating a lack of exercise and other forms of severe neglect.
  • Animals may have sores on their bodies.

See the Animal Care Standards For Some Common Animals section (Chapter 6) for more information on indicators of neglect.

What to do

  1. Talk to the local humane agency staff to determine if they are able to care for large animals. If they are not, ask if they can assist by coordinating a group of farmers, horse owners, or stables, that might board the animals while the case is in litigation.
  2. Talk to the District Attorney’s office to see if it can assist with plans to care for the animals once they are secured.
  3. Coordinate an effort with the local humane agency and a veterinarian for the day you plan to execute the search warrant.
  4. Execute the search warrant and have the animal handling team enter the property.
  5. Take photographs of the individual animals and their environment. Take detailed photographs of any sores or injuries.
  6. Have the veterinarian examine the animals and provide you with a signed statement as to the condition of the animals.
  7. Have the local humane society remove the animals from the property.
  8. Arrest the owner or issue him an appearance ticket.

Important Note: In some cases, especially where many animals are involved, some animals may appear more neglected than others. Nevertheless, all the animals should be seized, if possible, because the conditions in which the animals are being kept are causing the problem. And it is usually only a matter of time before the healthier ones will be in bad shape as well.


  1. Neglected Large Animals: Starving Horses
  2. Neglected Large Animals: Starving Horses Running Loose
  3. Transporting Animals in a Cruel Manner

Animal in hot car
This is a common problem in the warm months and can happen with any animal, but generally involves dogs. People take their animal along for a ride. They go into a store and forget the time, leaving the animal in the hot sun with the car windows closed or opened just a crack. The animal soon is at the point of death from heat exhaustion.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

Generally, the animal will be desperate, clawing at the window, trying to get out. It will be panting hard with its tongue hanging out struggling to breathe. In some cases, the animal may be lying on the seat, exhausted, beyond fighting for its life.

What to do

If in your judgment the animal will die if not removed immediately, consider doing the following:

  1. If possible, have another police officer witness the situation. If not, have a competent adult be your witness and sign a statement describing what he observed. This is especially important if you are unable to take a photo of the scene.
  2. Call in by radio and explain what you are about to do. Then open the car door (if unlocked) or break the window (if car is locked), and remove and secure the animal.
  3. Get the animal into the shade. Have someone get wet towels and cool water. Have the animal taken to the veterinarian, if necessary.
  4. If a car window has to be broken to remove the animal from the car, afterwards consider having the vehicle towed to a garage for security purposes. You are responsible for the security of the vehicle if the window is broken; however, the owner is responsible for the cost of repairs.
  5. Determine who the owner is and interview him to determine if he should be charged with a violation of Section 353 of the Agriculture and Markets law.


  1. Animal in Hot Car

Physical Abuse
The reasons that people beat animals vary.

  • A person may be angry at a dog for digging up the yard and begin beating him.
  • A person may take out his or her own frustrations or anger out on an animal by kicking it, shooting it, or hitting it with an object.
  • In more sinister cases, sometimes involving drug dealers, the person may be beating a dog to “make it mean” because he thinks he can use the animal or sell it as a guard dog.

The abuse varies in degree and severity of results, but any kind of abuse is illegal.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

If the person is still beating the animal when you arrive, the situation is obvious. In other cases, by the time you arrive, the beating may have stopped. The animal may have marks, welts, or blood on him. He may be limping or whimpering, or a combination of these things.

What to do

  1. If you see the beating still going on when you arrive, it has been our experience that you should consider entering the property because a crime is being committed and Exigent Circumstances exist, based on Section 371 of the Agriculture and Markets law. (See the “Key Concepts” discussion in the “Be Prepared Ahead of Time” section.)
    1. Seize the animal for evidence and medical treatment. Call the dog control officer or humane agency to take the animal to a veterinarian for treatment.
    2. Obtain a signed statement from the veterinarian as to the condition of the animal.
    3. Take photographs of the animal for evidence.
    4. You can charge the person with cruelty under Section 353 of Section 26 of the Agriculture and Markets law.


  1. If, when you arrive, you do not see the animal or the person who was reportedly doing the beating, consider doing the following:
    1. Obtain statements from any witnesses or neighbors who may have witnessed the beating.
    2. Find the person who was reportedly doing the beating and examine the animal.
    3. If the person does not allow you to see the animal, but you have a signed statement from a witness or you have seen some evidence that makes you believe the animal has been beaten, or both, you can obtain a search warrant to seize the animal.
    4. If when you execute the search warrant, you find the animal has been beaten, call the humane society or animal control and have them take the animal to a veterinarian.
    5. Take photographs of the animal at the scene and/or at the veterinarian’s office. Obtain a signed statement from the veterinarian indicating that the animal has been beaten and the animal’s condition.
    6. You can charge the person with cruelty under Section 353 of the Agriculture and Markets law.

NOTE: With regard to dogs, exercise caution if you arrest the individual at the scene, as a dog may attack an officer who is arresting its owner.


  1. Physical Abuse

Abandoned Animals
Rather than take the time to find their animal a decent home or take it to the local animal shelter, some people abandon it when they move. This problem occurs in vacation rentals and college dorms as well.

You may receive a call from a concerned neighbor that people have moved away, but the neighbor hears an animal inside. You may receive a call from a landlord who discovers that an animal has been left after the tenants have moved.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

If possible, look in the windows of the property to see if you can see the animal and determine its condition. Food or water dishes may not be available to the animal, or they may be overturned. Feces may cover the floor. The animal may be tied to a chair or table. There may be no furniture in the unit. Take photographs of these conditions if possible.

What to do

See the discussion on “Abandonment” in the “Investigating An Animal Cruelty Complaint” section for an explanation of how to proceed in these cases.


  1. Abandoned Animals: Animal Abandoned in Apartment
  2. Abandoned Animals: Animal Abandoned in Rented House
  3. Abandoned Animals: Animal Abandoned in Owned Trailer
  4. Abandoned Animals: Inside and Outside

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