When last week’s temperatures dipped to zero degrees, our inbox was dotted with e-mails about animals without shelter or water. Desperate neighbors reached out in an effort to help animals. In each case, we responded – sometimes by simply answering questions or offering concrete advice about New York State anti-cruelty law. One nervous woman was reassured that a “3-sided barn” was, indeed, proper shelter for a horse.
This is the time of year when compromised animals die. Left outside without shelter, the old, the unhealthy, and the injured often succumb to the elements-particularly when neglectful humans fail to provide an adequate supply of water several times a day. Licking ice in a trough that has frozen solid won’t work, yet we’re stunned by how many humans ignore the most basic need. What a helpless feeling it can be to view animals without shelter, adequate food, or water enduring bone-chilling temperatures. The good news is that you can help by following these steps…
- If you have a friendly relationship with your neighbor, speak up and offer assistance! He might be sick, elderly, or overwhelmed, and might be grateful to have your help throwing out hay, breaking ice, and providing water.
- Make sure you understand what you’re looking at. A “3-sided barn” is called a run-in, and it’s a standard shelter for horses and cows. As long as they’re solidly built and provide ample room for the number of animals in the pasture, run-ins are fine shelters and are strongly preferred over barn stalls by many horses.
- If there is any kind of shelter available to animals on the property, it will probably be hard to get law enforcement to act. Even if you’re not an expert carpenter, your best bet may be to offer help shoring up the shelter so that the animal is protected from the cold wind.
- In most cases, it’s either impossible, inappropriate, or risky to offer assistance. In these cases, do the following:
- Research animal cruelty laws in your state. In New York State, for instance, anti-cruelty laws are part of the Agriculture and Markets code, rather than the criminal code. Article 26, Sections 353 and 373 are the laws that pertain to the provision of food, drink, and shelter, and that provide legal authority to police officers to seize animals not being properly kept. Print out copies of these laws, and bookmark the links. Your state laws will help you figure out if a law is being broken. If it is, then the next step is to contact either your local SPCA, your local or state police, or in many cases, all three.
- If you can, take clear photos from the road (do NOT trespass under any circumstances). Photos can be helpful if you choose to make a complaint.
- In the State of New York, the law requires that police officers investigate complaints of animal cruelty, while it states that an SPCA “may” investigate complaints. On the other hand, police officers are often unfamiliar with laws pertaining to animal cruelty, and in all but the most extreme cases don’t always know how to identify an animal at risk. Moreover, many organizations have insufficient staff to be able to respond in a timely way. It’s your choice whether to call your local SPCA or police barracks first. If the situation is truly dire and you don’t get a response, go to the next organization. Multiple contacts are often required. Be prepared to be persistent, and remember that the county sheriff, town or city police, and state police are all mandated by law to investigate complaints.
- While some officers will respond to specific verbal complaints, most strongly prefer complaints to be made in writing. If it’s bitterly cold outside, animals’ lives could easily be in jeopardy. Time is of the essence: gather your courage, go to the station, make the complaint, noting as many specifics as possible.
- If any of the above is confusing, or if you truly don’t know if what you’re looking at is endangering the life of an animal, contact us, or a reputable sanctuary close to you. We’ll be happy to walk you through the process of getting help for vulnerable animals.
Meantime, thanks for caring.
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