Seeing an animal being abused or neglected is one of the saddest, most infuriating things in the world. If you happen to witness a dog, cat, horse or other living creature being harmed in some way, or being subjected to treatment that seems either questionable or downright dangerous, it is important to know what to do.

However, before stepping in or taking other actions, you should ensure that you keep yourself safe. While your heart may be in the right place, the animal’s owner could become hostile if there is a confrontation, threatening your own wellbeing. There is also a risk that the abused animal will lash out, perhaps unintentionally, because of the way that she’s been treated.

Generally speaking, it is in your best interest to remain anonymous, because you don’t want to risk being harassed or threatened by an owner who finds himself in trouble with authorities for mistreating a pet. While unlikely, there is also the possibility that what you saw was not a conscious act of abuse, but simply needed to be brought to somebody’s attention so it could be corrected as soon as possible.

Three potential pet abuse situations

Assuming you have done what is necessary to minimize the risk to you, below are three common situations that you may come across and some guidelines on what to do in each particular case:

    1. Pet locked in a hot car

Aside from the bad idea of leaving a pet alone in a place where she is at risk of being taken by thieves, it is cruel to leave her in a car or other vehicle when the temperatiure is warm without opening one or more windows to ensure proper ventilation. Unfortunately, while your natural inclination as a witness to such irresponsibility might be to pry or break open the windows, such actions may be considered a crime in certain jurisdictions.

Under the circumstances, you may want to take account of or do the following before taking such a step:

      • Are there security cameras nearby? They may record your actions and possibly be used against you in a court of law.

      • What is the temperature outside the car? It is probably a good idea to take a screenshot beforehand of a local weather report displaying the latest readings. This can aid your defense if you are prosecuted for damaging the car.

      • Take photos or video of the pet in the car to document why you took the actions you did.

      • Record the vehicle’s license plate and/or registration information.

      • Keep in mind that even “safety glass” can have jagged edges when it breaks, which may cause injury to you or the animal.

      • The animal in question may be fearful and become aggressive once the window is broken, putting you at risk for a bite.

With all of the above in mind, your best bet is probably to call the police, especially if the pet appears to be bright, alert, and responsive. It is best to let law enforcement authorities handle the situation and break into the car, if necessary, to effect a rescue.

    1. Pet left outside without water or food

If you find that an animal has been left outdoors without the necessary basics, especially for more than a day, it is important to act before tragedy strikes. Again, it makes sense to be cognizant of certain realities in these kinds of situations. Trespassing on somebody else’s property or confronting the (apparent) owner could defeat the object and transform a compassionate effort into an ugly encounter.

Among the things you may want to consider:

      • If the animal is inside a fence, water (using a small-spouted can, if possible) and feed it through any opening you can find.

      • Photograph or video the animal’s condition and environment, taking pains to get as complete a picture as possible.

      • Avoid entering the owner’s property uninvited.

      • Note the address and contact the police, animal control authorities, or the local SPCA or humane society.

    1. Injured pet

You might be driving down a road and notice a dog attached to a chain on someone’s front porch. For one reason or another, you decideto pull over and take a closer look. Upon closer inspection, you notice that the collar around the animal’s neck seems too small and there is a weeping wound in the immediately surrounding area. While there may be any number of innocent explanations, it seems as though that this little too-tight one’s collar is causing injury to its skin and neck tissue.

If you are like most caring individuals, you will want to do something about it. Below are some things to think about it you find yourself in such a situation:

      • However troubling the circumstances might seem, you should stay in or near your car and keep off the owner’s property unless it appears to be a matter of life and death.

      • Avoid confronting the owner for your own safety.

      • Take photographs or video of the pet and the injury.

      • Note the address and dial 911, or get in touch with police and other authorities who are authorized to take whatever steps are necessary.

While it may seem like the easy way out, reporting information about pet abuse or neglect to the police or local animal control officials anonymously is often all that is necessary to remove an endangered pet from an abusive situation. After all, it is not the fact that you got involved that matters; it is the fact that you helped a save a defenseless animal that matters most.