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VACTF Manual: Chapter 3 - Investigating an Animal Cruelty Complaint


You may receive a complaint that an animal has been left without food or water for several days and appears to be abandoned. These complaints often occur in vacation/resort areas at the end of tourist season, but they can occur anywhere. In this situation, it is especially important to obtain a sworn statement from the complainant, if possible, to establish how long the owner has been gone.

Arriving at the scene

When you enter the property, announce your arrival, and look for the owner/occupant. Knock on the front door to see if anyone is at home. If no one answers, go to the rear of the house and knock on the back door, then shout out for the owner/occupant. As you do so, look for the animal that was the cause of the complaint and any other animals that may be on the property.

Exercising this type of behavior - calling out, looking for the owner - demonstrates a "good faith" effort in finding the owner/occupant while doing your job.

If you discover an animal on the property, determine whether exigent circumstances exist.

  1. Non-exigent circumstances
    The animal you found appears to be in a neglected state, but not in danger of dying. Perhaps you cannot see the animal, but you hear sounds inside a locked barn or house. In either case (accessible or not), consider the following approach:
    1. Talk to the neighbors, to determine how long the owner/occupant has been gone. Obtain signed statements, if possible.

    2. Based on the input you receive, your observations, and the signed affidavit (if you have one) of the complainant, obtain a search warrant.

    3. If you cannot ascertain how long the owner/occupant has been gone, you might try the following:
      • Leave a notice for the owner to contact you OR place a piece of clear tape across the door and jamb.

      • If the owner does not call or the tape has not been broken in 24 hours, obtain a search warrant to seize the animal(s).

      • If it is a rental property, attempt to contact the landlord. If he has reason to believe the tenants have abandoned the property, ask him to sign a permission slip to enter the property and remove the animals.

    4. Call the animal control officer/humane society to accompany you to the property.

    5. After securing the search warrant, enter the property. Take photographs of the animal(s) on the property and any provisions (or lack thereof) of food, water, sanitation, etc. (See pg 266 of Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Ten Top Tips for Good Photography, Videography")

    6. Have the animal control officer/local humane society take the animal to a veterinarian or to the animal shelter.

    7. If the animal is taken to the veterinarian's office, take photographs of it there. Get a statement and/or medical records from the veterinarian, documenting the animal's condition.

    8. Leave a copy of the receipt and the search warrant (not the application or affidavit) on the property.

    NOTE: Provide food and water for accessible animals.

    CAUTION: Although you have a search warrant, if you enter a locked building (especially a house) and remove an animal, you are responsible for re-securing that building. This is especially important with regard to an individual's residence. See pg 29 in this chapter, "Entering Property - Some Considerations".

  2. Exigent Circumstances
    See the discussion of "Exigent Circumstances" in this chapter.

Confronting owner/owner reactions

When you find the animal's owner or person responsible for the animal's situation, interview him to determine how the situation came about. Based on the conversation, you might charge him with the appropriate violations of Title 13.

« Exigent Circumstances Large numbers of animals - unable to remove easily »

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