What to Do If a Neighbor Is Abusing Their Dog

Signs of Mistreatment, and What You Can Do About It

Little dog in white cage.
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Animal abuse or neglect is never okay.

Dogs can’t speak up for themselves. So if you see your neighbor abusing their dog—or any animal, for that matter—you have a responsibility to speak up, whether that’s to your neighbor directly, or, if you’re not comfortable doing that, to your local humane society, animal care and control department, or law enforcement department.

The sooner that you act, the better. Here’s what to know about the signs of animal abuse, plus what steps you should take if you witness it occurring.

Signs a Dog Is Being Mistreated

The signs of animal abuse can be both obvious and not-so-obvious. In general, though, if something feels off, then your best bet is to take action, since failure to do so could lead to more abuse for the dog.

Signs to be on the lookout for include:

Physical Issues

A dog who is being mistreated may exhibit clear physical symptoms, such as being severely underweight or exhibiting wounds, incredibly unkempt and/or matted fur, or fleas and ticks. If you see things that would prompt you to take your own dog to the vet right away, that suggests that the dog is not getting the proper care that they need.

Abnormal Behaviors

Dogs have a range of personalities just like humans do, but excessive cowering, shyness, or hiding are not usually part of the normal spectrum of behaviors. A dog who appears to be incredibly afraid of humans may be experiencing abuse in the home, so look for these signs when you see the animal, especially if they’re acting this way around their caregiver.

Lack of Necessities

Have you noticed that a dog is often left without food, water, or shelter? What about proper sanitization in the areas that they spend a lot of time? All dog parents have an obligation to provide their pets with basic necessities, and a lack of one or more of these suggests that something is amiss.

Inhumane Restraints

Many people keep their dogs fenced in or chained. This can become problematic if the dog is being held in an area where they have little freedom of movement or are attached to heavy chains, padlocks, or an otherwise uncomfortable restraining device.

Abandonment

It is a crime to abandon your animal. If you notice an animal in your neighbor’s home or yard but your neighbor themselves appear to have moved, get the animal help immediately. The same goes for if you notice the animal is often left alone and in distress, some signs of which include constant whining or barking beyond what we might consider normal.

Is Leaving a Dog Outside All Day Abuse?

In some parts of the country, you’ll often see dogs left outside during all hours of the day, sometimes on a chain. Depending on where you live, this can be a crime—especially if it’s extremely cold or hot outside, or if the dog does not have access to shelter, food, and clean water.

If there are extreme temperatures, the dog looks distressed, or the dog does not have access to necessities, take a picture or video as evidence and reach out to your nearest humane society or animal care and control department.

Is Leaving a Dog in a Car Abuse?

Many states have made it illegal to leave a dog or other animal in a motor vehicle under conditions that can endanger their health. An example of this would be if the animal is left in a car on a warm day with the car off and no AC running (even with the windows down, a vehicle parked in 70 degree weather can heat up to 100 degrees in just 20 minutes).

If you notice a dog left in a car and they’re not in obvious distress, stay put for five to 10 minutes to see if the owner returns. If not, call your local police department and they’ll send someone out. And if the animal is in distress, call right away instead of waiting.

What to Do If You Notice Animal Abuse

While it might not be a comfortable situation to be in, you might be the only person who notices what’s going on and can advocate for the dog in need. Here are some actions you can take depending on your comfort level and the extent of abuse that you witness.

Talk to the Owner

Carefully try to determine whether the owner neglects their dog unknowingly or if they are just in over their head. Some people may find themselves unable to properly care for an animal, or unprepared for the amount of dedication a dog needs. If the owner acts defensive or aggressive, step away and call in professionals.

Offer to Take the Dog off Their Hands

Offer a sum of money if need be. Once they have relinquished the dog (it is strongly recommended that you obtain a proof of purchase or receipt if they do), you can then turn the dog over to a rescue group, or keep the dog yourself.

Call Your Local Humane Society, SPCA Branch, or Animal Control Department

Describe what you have seen in regards to your neighbor's neglect or mistreatment of the dog, and have photo or video evidence ready if possible. They will either take action themselves, or advise you further on what you can do.