Many people have different interpretations of what is considered "animal abuse." Identifying abuse or neglect may be harder than it first appears. It is important that you look at the entire situation to determine if an animal is being abused or neglected, and to ascertain whether the abuse is intentional and/or malicious. Many times what seems like neglect over a neighbor's fence may be misinterpreted, or may not fall within the legal definition of animal abuse.
The legal definition of animal abuse or animal cruelty determines how law enforcement officials respond to a reported incident. To help facilitate law enforcement's ability to prosecute animal abusers it is important to collect factual information when you suspect abuse or neglect, and to place a report with the law enforcement agency in your city or township jurisdiction.The Michigan Penal Code defines animal cruelty as the malicious or intentional maiming, mutilation, torture or wounding of a living animal, and states that any person who overworks, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary food, drink or shelter, cruelly beats, mutilates or cruelly kills an animal is guilty of a misdemeanor or felony. Any person who owns, possesses, keeps or trains a dog with the intent to engage the animal in exhibition fighting, as well as any person who is knowingly present as a spectator at an exhibition of dog fighting is guilty of a felony. In addition, any person who willfully abandons any animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.
What Can You Do About Animal Abuse?
If you suspect cruelty to an animal you should contact your local law enforcement agency. As a witness, you will need to be able to provide information about the situation, such as:
WHAT is happening, i.e., a description of the incident(s)―this explanation may include information about an animal's physical condition and / or an act that was committed against the animal.
WHO is committing the offense―name and description of the person or persons, as well as a description of their vehicle (if applicable) with a license plate number―as much information as you can gather.
WHERE is the incident occurring―specific location, including address and cross streets.
WHEN did the incident occur―date and time.
The more detailed your description, the more evidence law enforcement and animal control will have to pursue your report. If others have also witnessed a particular animal being abused or neglected, ask them to report the incident, as well. Corroborating evidence supports your case. Animal control officers may not be available to respond immediately to a reported incident of animal abuse. Don't wait until an animal's life is in danger. If you suspect abuse, document it and report it to the appropriate law enforcement agency. You may also want to follow up with the law enforcement agency to find out if the situation fell under the legal definition of animal abuse, and, if not, why.
When you feel a situation is unhealthy for an animal and it does not fall within the legal definition of animal abuse, you may want to approach the owner and gently suggest different approaches concerning how they treat their pet. Many people were brought up with different ideas about pet ownership and/or may not understand a dog or cat's physical, mental and emotional needs. However, do not put yourself in a compromising situation; if they are not receptive to your input, it is a good idea to back off. You may continue to monitor the situation and report any additional developments to law enforcement.
You can help prevent animal abuse by taking care of the animals you have, and encouraging others to do the same. If you want to take a more active role in helping animals in your community, you can volunteer at a local shelter or rescue, or donate to groups that support animal welfare.
Reporting a Suspected Case of Animal Cruelty
If the suspected incident of animal abuse occurs within specific city or township limits, you should contact that city's / township's police department; they will coordinate with animal control officers to investigate your claim. If the incident occurs outside of city or township limits, contact the appropriate Muskegon County Sheriff's Department at (231) 724-6351 or Ottawa County Sheriff's Department at (616) 738-4094. When an incident occurs after normal business hours and the animal's life is in jeopardy, call 9-1-1.
Township Police Departments (Muskegon County)
Egelston Township Police Department: (231) 788-4405
Fruitport Township Police Department: (231) 865-8477
Muskegon Township Police Department: (231) 777-1666
City Police Departments (Muskegon County)
City of Muskegon Police Department: (231) 724-6750
City of Muskegon Heights Police Department: (231) 733-8900
City of North Muskegon Police Department: (231) 744-4313
City of Norton Shores Police Department: (231) 733-2691
City of Roosevelt Park Police Department: (231) 755-3721
Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Abuse
My neighbor keeps his dog tied up day and night in the backyard. Is that cruelty?
Owners have a duty to provide an animal with adequate care and that includes providing sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitary conditions, exercise and veterinary attention to maintain an animal in good health. An owner cannot tether a dog unless the tether is three times the length of the dog or more and attached to a harness or non-choke collar designed for tethering. The tethered animal must also be within reach of adequate food, water and shelter.
It’s a warm day and I see a dog panting in a parked car with cracked windows. Is this cruelty?
Yes. A Stanford University study shows that even on comparatively cool days, such as 72 degrees, a car's internal temperature will rocket to 116 degrees within 60 minutes. And keeping the windows open a crack hardly slows the rise at all. If you observe a dog suffering in a car, try to find the owner by checking with the adjacent stores or businesses. If you believe the animal has been in the car up to 45 minutes and the owner cannot be found, call 9-1-1. To provide perspective, imagine yourself sitting in a closed, parked car on a summer’s day while wearing a full-length winter fur coat.
The horse in the neighboring field stands in the wind and rain all day. Is that cruelty?
As long as the horse has food, water and a place to stand up, and can turn around and lie down in an area that is not covered in water, these circumstances do not fall within the legal definition of cruelty.
My neighbor is shooting cats with a pellet gun. Is that cruelty?
Absolutely. That is at least a misdemeanor, and may be charged as a felony.
I believe my dog or cat has been poisoned. What should I do?
Take your animal to a local veterinarian immediately. Save any food products that may have been thrown over the fence that the dog or cat may have eaten as it becomes evidence. A toxicology analysis will need to be performed on the animal to determine why it got sick or died before cruelty can be proven.
I know that dog fights are being held in my neighborhood. Is that cruelty?
Yes. Dog fighting is cruelty and a felony upon conviction.
I am afraid of my neighbor if I report him for animal cruelty. Can I report abuse anonymously?
Yes, you can report cruelty anonymously. However, the best chance for a successful prosecution and conviction depends on detailed information and evidence. If others have also witnessed this specific abuse or neglect, ask them to report the incident, as well.