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VACTF Manual: Chapter 3 - Investigating an Animal Cruelty Complaint

Non-Exigent Circumstances

Non-exigent circumstances exist when an animal does not appear to be in extreme pain or in imminent danger of losing its life but is neglected or abused to a greater or lesser degree.

Arriving at the scene

It may not always be easy to distinguish between severe neglect and exigent circumstances - determining the degree of neglect is often a judgment call.

Some Examples of Serious Neglect

  • animal is very thin
  • animal appears to be constantly scratching at itself or rubbing against walls (possibly from mange or lice)
  • animal has numerous sores on its body
  • animal is limping
  • animal is living in filthy, squalid conditions
  • animal is in the hot sun (a pig without shelter in the hot sun could die)

Some Examples of Less Serious Neglect
Do you believe that the animal is being neglected but is not yet in a state of severe neglect?

  • the animal does not have proper shelter (for example, a dog with only the tailgate of a truck for shelter - if it were winter, this could be deadly for the animal)
  • water bowl overturned/dry - no fresh water available
  • the animal's appearance indicates a general lack of proper care

The neglect must be corrected before it becomes serious.

NOTE: If an owner is not at home, and your observations indicate that an animal is being neglected, consider leaving a notice for the person to call you when he returns. If you do not receive a call, return later when you expect the person to be present and proceed to investigate the complaint.

Confronting owner/owner reactions

Attempt to talk to the owner and ask to examine the animal. Attempt to find out how the situation came about. His response will likely follow one of the scenarios outlined below.

  1. Owner cooperative - May want to surrender the animal
    1. Discuss the welfare of the animal with the owner, and ask him how the situation came about.
    2. If the owner wants to surrender the animal for the sake of its well being, attempt to obtain a written statement granting permission to the local humane agency to take over care and control of the animal (See sample on page 218 of Appendix III, Forms and Supplies List, "Agreement for Surrendering Animals to Humane Society").
    3. Enlist the aid of the local humane agency (or animal control officer) and a veterinarian and have the animal removed from the property.


  2. Owner cooperative - Doesn't want to surrender the animal
    1. Provide the owner with a list of things he must do within a specified time period to bring the animal's situation into compliance with the law. The more serious the condition of the animal, the quicker the owner must act.
    2. Explain to the owner that you will return within a day or so, and you expect to see the animal's care in compliance with the instructions you left. Let him know that if it is not, he will be considered in violation of Title 13.
    3. Ensure that whatever conditions are causing the complaint are temporarily corrected before you leave; for example, make sure the animal has food, water, and shelter before you leave.
    4. Return within the time period you specified and determine if the animal's situation has improved.
    5. If it has not, consider obtaining a search warrant and contacting the animal control officer or local humane agency to remove the animal from the property.

    NOTE: You must use your own judgment. If you believe that an owner cannot follow through with instructions, then you would not give him any. Instead, you would take steps to obtain a search warrant to seize the animal. Also, if it is clear that the person does not have the means (monetary or otherwise) to correct the animal's problem, consider obtaining a search warrant to seize the animals.

  3. Owner uncooperative - but you are allowed access to the animal
    If the owner is uncooperative (i.e., refuses to acknowledge the state of the animals, acts belligerent, etc.) and you have sworn deposition or complaint or you are the complainant based on what you saw, then consider doing the following:
    1. Document any statements the owner makes.

    2. Apply for a search warrant and an arrest warrant. If you have reason to believe that the animal will be removed by the abuser before you can secure a search warrant and obtain the assistance you need to seize the animals, leave an officer at the scene, if possible.

    3. Contact the animal control officer/local humane agency and ask them to come to the scene.

    4. Execute the search warrant. Give a copy of the search warrant to the owner. (If the owner is not on the property, leave a copy in a prominent place.)

    5. Photograph the animal and its surroundings.

    6. Have the animal control or local humane agency remove the animal either to a veterinarian or to the local humane society.

    7. Advise the owner of his rights, and attempt to talk to him to determine how the situation came about.

      If the owner is not on the property, and cannot be located with reasonable efforts, apply for an arrest warrant. Issue him a citation (and whoever else is responsible for the state of the animals) and charge him with the appropriate sections of Title 13. Be sure to contact your State's Attorney's office to commence forfeiture proceedings immediately.

    8. If the animal is taken to the veterinarian's office, take additional photos there. Obtain a statement and/or medical record from the veterinarian documenting the animal's condition.

    9. Meet with the State's Attorney's office to discuss the case and present your evidence as soon as possible.

  4. Owner uncooperative - and you are not allowed access to the animal
    If the person refuses to allow you to see or examine the animal, the way you proceed depends on the evidence you have.

    1. If you have a signed complaint and probable cause to believe that the complaint is valid, apply for a search warrant to enter the property.

    2. If you do not have a signed complaint, consider doing the following:

      1. Interview the neighbors to see if anyone has knowledge of the situation and will sign a complaint.

      2. Look into the background of the person to see if there have been previous complaints.

      3. Determine if there is any health hazard to the neighbors; for example, bad smells emanating from a garage where animals are kept or vermin present in the area of the property.

        You may gather enough information to be able to apply for a search warrant.

    3. If you have nothing concrete to go on, you may simply have to wait until you do.
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