How Do I Report Suspected Abuse?


Reporting suspected family violence can be either a relatively simple or fairly confusing process. In cases of suspected child abuse and neglect, elder abuse, or domestic violence and sexual assault the procedures are fairly straightforward: any municipal, county or state law enforcement agency is authorized to receive reports and initiate an investigation. In addition, every state has either a statewide crisis line, or a directory of county agencies, where reports may be made.

Furthermore, there are statewide associations, such as coalitions for the prevention of child abuse or elder abuse or coalitions against domestic violence, that can offer assistance.

Reporting animal cruelty, abuse and neglect is far more complicated. There are no national or statewide systems: contrary to popular opinion, local humane societies or SPCAs (societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals) are not branches or affiliates of the national organizations. Each local animal welfare organization is independent with its own board of directors and anti-cruelty law enforcement powers which range from full to none. Many city or county animal control or animal services officers are empowered to enforce cruelty laws, but many are not – and many are limited in the scope of which laws or species they are allowed to assist.

Click on the map above to find what we believe to be the current procedures in your state, listed by county and often by communities therein. The listing of a reporting agency does not necessarily mean enforcement is vigorous. Inclusion of a law enforcement agency may merely be by default in the absence of a readily-identified animal control or humane agency. If an agency does not enforce in your jurisdiction or species, they should be able to refer you to the agency that does. If you believe an animal’s life is in immediate danger, call 911.

Do not be surprised if you encounter a “runaround”: in many areas law enforcement officials do not feel adequately trained to handle animal cases and frequently refer complaints to local animal control or humane officers – who, if they are not sworn law enforcement officers, may, in turn refer the caller back to the police or sheriff. Just be patient and keep trying. Insist that animal abuse is a crime and the law enforcement agency is sworn to investigate it as they must with any other possible violation. A follow-up call may be required to assure the animal gets help.

In each state’s Directory on the pages that follow, the reportable agencies are color-coded as follows to help you determine local response:

  • BLACK: a defined animal control/animal services agency (which may be a division of municipal police or county sheriff)
  • GREEN: a defined humane society or SPCA with cruelty investigatory powers
  • BLUE: a municipal police department in a community where no specific animal control authority has been identified
  • BROWN: a county sheriff’s office in a county where no specific animal control authority has been identified
  • PURPLE: animal cruelty enforcement is handled by another agency, such as Code Enforcement, Environmental Services, community dispatch, or others.

These lists will be updated as much as possible. If you are aware of new information that should be added or corrected. please contact the National Link Coalition.

When making a report, you must provide specifics. Please provide the dispatcher with your name, a telephone number where you can be reached, the exact address where the animal can be found, a description of the animal, the date and time of the incident, and a description of the abuse or neglect the animal is suffering. If you have personally witnessed animal cruelty, the investigating officer may ask you to sign a complaint against the animal’s owner.

FOR VETERINARIANS: The majority of states now mandate or permit veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse with immunity from civil and/or criminal liability. The AVMA has collected basic information about reporting requirements by state and other resources. The AAHA has a position statement on reporting suspected animal abuse.

FOR SOCIAL SERVICES WORKERS: Child protective services workers are mandated to report animal abuse in Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and West Virginia, and are permitted to report animal abuse in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon.  Adult protective services workers are mandated to report animal abuse in Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and West Virginia and are permitted to report animal abuse in California.

REPORTING CHILD ABUSE: 18 states mandate that everyone must report suspected child abuse: Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Animal control and humane officers are mandated reporters in California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Illinois, Maine, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Veterinarians are mandated reporters in California and Colorado.

REPORTING ELDER ABUSE: 7 states mandate that everyone must report suspected elder abuse: Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wyoming. Animal control and humane officers are mandated reporters in Arkansas, California and Maine. Veterinarians are mandated reporters in Illinois.