As an animal lover, it can be difficult and distressing when you suspect an animal may be suffering from cruelty or neglect. Thankfully in the UK, there are protocols that can be followed if you suspect animal cruelty. These ensure appropriate action is taken to improve conditions, or in some cases, remove the animal altogether.
How to know if an animal is being neglected: The Five Freedoms
Globally recognised as the standard for animal welfare, the Five Freedoms encompass both the physical and mental well-being of animals, and every owner has a duty to ensure their animals are afforded the following:
Freedom from hunger and thirst
All animals have a right to clean, fresh drinking water and appropriate nutrition. The diet provided should be specific to the animal, taking into consideration their age, breed and whether they suffer any health conditions.
Freedom from discomfort
No animal should be left experiencing pain or discomfort without adequate veterinary care. All animals should be kept in appropriate housing, and afforded a safe and healthy living environment.
Freedom from pain, injury or disease
Animals should be monitored for illness or injury regularly, and treated accordingly. Medical care should be consistent, and the animal vaccinated as appropriate to their species.
Freedom to express normal behaviour
Animals have the right to move and express normal behaviour, specific to their species. Under this freedom, sufficient space, suitable facilities and the company of the animal's own kind must be provided. There should be the option to interact with, or avoid, animals of the same species, and adequate space to stretch and move normally.
Freedom from fear and distress
The mental health of animals is just as important as their physical health, and they should be treated with this in mind. Overcrowding should be avoided, and suitable stimulation provided.
What is classed as animal cruelty in the UK?
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offense to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal in England or Wales, and owners have a duty to meet the Five Freedoms at all times.
It can be hard to know how to act in instances of suspected cruelty, as there are certain considerations enforcement authorities will have to make. Tethering a horse isn't illegal, for example, but if the equipment used causes injury, a case could be made against the owner. Keeping a dog outdoors is not illegal either, but the environment provided must be suitable, meeting welfare standards and offering adequate protection.
Where you suspect an owner is causing unnecessary suffering to their animal, you can report this to your local authority or to the RSPCA for investigation. They will be able to assess the suitability of the conditions, and follow up accordingly.
How can I report animal cruelty in the UK?
If you suspect neglect or cruelty, it's important not to look the other way. Depending on the case and the animal in question, you can either speak with your local authority or to the RSPCA.
Stray dogs are the legal responsability of each council in the UK, who must appoint a dog warden to help in the case of abandonment. If you suspect a dog has been abandoned, you should contact them directly.
In the case of other suspected abuse or neglect of another form, you can contact the RSPCA via their cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.
Can I report animal cruelty to the RSPCA online?
The RSPCA offers extensive advice and welfare information online, but it isn't possible to file a report without contacting their cruelty line directly. To do so, you must prepare the following information:
- Your name, address and telephone number: This will be treated in confidence and not shared unless the RSPCA is authorised to do so by law.
- The date, time and place you witnessed animal cruelty: Provide as much detail as possible.
- The animal's body condition and environment: This helps to make an assessment of their welfare.
In cases where an animal has been abandoned, you should also record the vehicle make and registration.
Phone lines can become very busy, so it's best to complete this checklist before reporting cases of animal cruelty by phone.
When can the RSPCA remove animals?
If you've reported animal cruelty, you may wonder what happens next. In cases where the animal is clearly in imminent danger of being injured, or there is a risk to life itself, the RSPCA are able to step in and help. In some cases, actually removing the animal can become more complicated.
Animal hoarding, where large numbers of animals are kept without access to adequate nutrition, sanitation and health care, may be considered neglect or abuse by relevant authorities. If the animal's life is not in danger, but you do suspect neglect, you should try to document specific the incident in as much detail as possible. If the owner is not approachable, you may need to contact local law enforcement authorities.
While it may be distressing to observe, there can be many reasons a dog may bark, and it's important to establish the reason behind the behaviour. Separation related distress is common among our canine companions, and as a first point of contact, it's worth trying to speak to the owner directly to see whether they're aware their dog is barking.
If the issue persists long-term, you'll need to record the date and time of each incident, before filing a complaint with your local noise authority. They will need consistent records showing why you suspect animal cruelty, at which point they will be able to intervene and move forward with an investigation.
How does the RSPCA investigation process work?
The RSPCA does not hold the same powers as the police, so gathering evidence occurs with support from members of the public. Once an allegation has been filed, this will be passed on to an inspector who is responsible for identifying any offences.
Once this has been carried out, the investigation process begins. Vet evidence and CCTV footage will be gathered, in conjuction with relevant witness statements, after which a casefile will be prepared by the inspector. The prosecution team will then examine the case, making the final decision on whether or not to proceed with prosecution.
As highlighted by this process, the RSPCA and local law enforcement authorities need help and support to invesitgate cases of neglect and suffering. If you suspect or have witnessed animal cruelty, you should take all reasonable steps to accurately document and record what you've seen. Photographs and journal entries will always be helpful, as will dates, times and details of the condition of the animal.
With no voice of their own, animals experiencing poor welfare need the support of the public as much as the local authorities. Reporting suspected cruelty can seem like a complicated process, but with only limited resources available to charities such as the RSPCA, even small actions can make all the difference in helping our four-legged friends in need.