Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of animal cruelty. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in animal cruelty and ought to be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

  • Humane organizations and animal shelters are dedicated to protecting the welfare of animals. They can contribute expertise in animal behavior, staffing, resources, transportation, and shelter for seized animals. They can also coordinate temporary placement for the pets of domestic violence victims when their safety is a concern.
  • Animal cruelty enforcement agents and animal control officers have a wealth of knowledge regarding applicable laws and the various forms of animal mistreatment. In addition, they may offer prevention-focused interventions designed to develop owners’ skills and knowledge in animal care.
  • Veterinarians can provide expert testimony on the injuries sustained, the likely causes of those injuries, and the prognosis for treatment. Because owners sometimes seek medical treatment for animals that they have harmed, veterinarians are also important referral sources.
  • Adult protective services staff can be particularly helpful in hoarding cases, as many offenders may have serious personal and mental health needs.
  • Child protective services staff are important sources and recipients of referrals when child abuse and animal cruelty co-occur.
  • Domestic violence shelter staff can help police or animal cruelty enforcement agents verify the welfare of any pets left behind. Some victims of domestic violence attribute their hesitation in leaving an abusive partner to concern for their pets.
  • Mental health providers can offertreatment to offenders with mental illness and can also make referrals to other services to address the other underlying causes of serious animal mistreatment. Treatment is essential to reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
  • Code enforcement agents can often obtain warrants to enter the places where animal cruelty occurs more easily than police, permitting assessment of the animals’ condition.
  • Health department workers can help address the squalor that accompanies animal hoarding, test air quality, and assist in removing clutter and waste.
  • Utility companies, mail and package carriers, and fire departments may not play a role in the response to an individual case but their access to people’s residences and property makes them an important source of information.
  • Media can inform the public about the problem and can increase the likelihood of reporting. In addition, television, radio, and print media can run public information campaigns to increase pet owners’ skill in meeting their pets’ basic needs. Finally, publicity surrounding large-scale hoarding cases can encourage residents to donate food, shelter, or other assistance to the organizations sheltering the seized animals.

 

Asking the Right Questions

The following are critical questions to ask when analyzing your particular animal cruelty problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Incidents

  • How many incidents of animal neglect are reported to police? To animal welfare agencies? Who reports them?
  • What is the nature of these incidents (e.g., tethering, lack of food, water, shelter)?
  • How many incidents of physical cruelty to animals are reported to police? To animal welfare agencies? Who reports them?
  • What is the nature of these incidents?
  • How many incidents of animal hoarding are reported to police? To animal welfare agencies? Who reports them?
  • How are the incidents discovered?

 Animal Victims

  • What types of animals are involved in cases of neglect and physical cruelty?
  • What types of injuries do they sustain?
  • How many animals are killed by the offender? How many animal victims are euthanized as a result of the seriousness of their injuries?
  • How many incidents involve a single animal? How many involve multiple animals?
  • Are animal victims of hoarding of the same or different species?
  • Do the offenders own the animals? Does someone else own the animal? How many animal victims are wild or stray?

 Offenders

  • What characteristics do people who neglect their animals have (e.g., gender, age, socioeconomic status, number of people in household, use of drugs or alcohol.)?
  • What characteristics do people who physically abuse their animals have (e.g., gender, age, socioeconomic status, number of people in household, use of drugs or alcohol)?
  • What characteristics do people who hoard animals have (e.g., gender, age, socioeconomic status, number of people in household, use of drugs or alcohol, mental illness)?
  • What motivates offenders to neglect, abuse, or hoard animals?
  • What percentage of offenders has a previous referral for animal neglect, abuse, or hoarding?
  • What percentage of offenders has previous or current referrals for child abuse, domestic violence, or other forms of interpersonal violence?
  • What percentage of offenders has received assistance from adult protective services?
  • How many incidents of animal neglect are reported to police? To animal welfare agencies? Who reports them?
  • What is the nature of these incidents (e.g., tethering, lack of food, water, shelter)?
  • How many incidents of physical cruelty to animals are reported to police? To animal welfare agencies? Who reports them?
  • What is the nature of these incidents?
  • How many incidents of animal hoarding are reported to police? To animal welfare agencies? Who reports them?
  • How are the incidents discovered?

 Animal Victims

  • What types of animals are involved in cases of neglect and physical cruelty?
  • What types of injuries do they sustain?
  • How many animals are killed by the offender? How many animal victims are euthanized as a result of the seriousness of their injuries?
  • How many incidents involve a single animal? How many involve multiple animals?
  • Are animal victims of hoarding of the same or different species?
  • Do the offenders own the animals? Does someone else own the animal? How many animal victims are wild or stray?

 Offenders

  • What characteristics do people who neglect their animals have (e.g., gender, age, socioeconomic status, number of people in household, use of drugs or alcohol.)?
  • What characteristics do people who physically abuse their animals have (e.g., gender, age, socioeconomic status, number of people in household, use of drugs or alcohol)?
  • What characteristics do people who hoard animals have (e.g., gender, age, socioeconomic status, number of people in household, use of drugs or alcohol, mental illness)?
  • What motivates offenders to neglect, abuse, or hoard animals?
  • What percentage of offenders has a previous referral for animal neglect, abuse, or hoarding?
  • What percentage of offenders has previous or current referrals for child abuse, domestic violence, or other forms of interpersonal violence?
  • What percentage of offenders has received assistance from adult protective services?

Locations/Times

  • Where do incidents of animal neglect, physical abuse, and hoarding take place? What features of these locations may provide the opportunity for animal cruelty to occur?
  • What opportunities for natural surveillance are available at these places?
  • Is animal cruelty more likely during certain times of the year? Why?

 Current Responses

  • What agency has the legal authority to respond to and investigate reports of animal cruelty?
  • What agencies regularly become involved in responding to reports to animal cruelty?
  • To what priority do police and prosecutors assign animal cruelty cases?
  • What is current public sentiment surrounding animal cruelty? Have there been any recent high-profile cases? How did the community respond?
  • What are the state laws and local ordinances related to animal cruelty?
  • How are veterinarians involved in addressing the problem of animal cruelty?
  • What resources are available for educating pet owners about animal care and treatment?
  • What resources are available to treat the mental illnesses present in some offenders and the underlying causes?
  • What proportion of animal victims are seized or forfeited?
  • What services are available to shelter and treat animals that have been abused or neglected? Are the resources sufficient? What costs are associated with the care and treatment of animal victims? Who pays those costs?
  • What proportion of animal cruelty cases result in charges by the prosecutor? What are the reasons that offenders are not charged?
  • What efforts are made to educate police about the evidentiary requirements for prosecuting animal cruelty cases?
  • What types of sanctions are imposed upon conviction for animal cruelty?
  • How do judges and juries perceive the animal cruelty problem, and how do those perceptions affect adjudication and sentencing?

 

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results.

Take measures of your problem before you implement responses to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them to determine whether they have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers and Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 10, Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to animal cruelty. Process measures show the extent to which responses were properly implemented. Outcome measures show the extent to which the responses reduced the level or severity of the problem.

Process Measures

Use the following process indicators in your assessment:

  • Increased number of referrals from traditional (e.g., neighbors) and atypical referral sources (e.g., child protective services, utility companies, mail carriers)
  • Increased number of animal shelter or “foster-care” beds in homes for victims of animal cruelty
  • Improved animal care skills among offenders
  • Increased number of offenders who receive mental health treatment
  • Increased number of animal cruelty cases that are successfully prosecuted

Outcome Measures

Use the following outcome indicators in your assessment:

  • Increased number of animals that fully recover from their injuries
  • Reduced number of animals that die or must be euthanized because of the seriousness of their injuries
  • Reduced number of abused and neglected animals
  • Reduced number of animal-hoarding incidents
  • Reduced recidivism among animal cruelty offenders (although measures of recidivism, even for felony offenders, are difficult to track with a mobile population)