Friday, May 28, 2010

How to Make an Effective Abuse/Neglect Report

British Heavy Coloured Cob

More from the greatness that is Grainne Dhu!

How to Make an Effective Abuse/Neglect Report
by Grainne Dhu

Okay, you've seen a situation that you feel is clearly abusive or
neglectful, you've identified the person responsible as clearly as you
can and you've identified the correct agency to make a complaint to.

The content of your complaint can have a significant effect on how
seriously it is taken. Many years ago, I was involved in two different
puppy mill seizure cases and I learned a lot about effective testimony
from watching the prosecutor. An effective complaint can make the
difference between changing the situation for the animal and being

First of all, it's important to clearly differentiate between what you
actually saw for yourself and what you conjecture may have happened
out of your sight. If you see someone shanking a horse as they walk
behind the barn, hear some sort of commotion from that direction and
then see that person leading the horse back lathered up and flinching
away from the handler's hand, you can describe all that. You cannot
describe how they beat the horse with a whip because that's
conjectural, you didn't see it. You can, however, say "I didn't see
what happened while the horse was out of my sight behind the barn but
the sounds I heard and the horse's condition afterward made me think
that the horse had been beaten while out of my sight."

Quantify, quantify, quantify! Note your own position as you witnessed
the event(s), where the event occurred, how far away it was, the date,
the time of day, whether that time is an approximation or whether you
looked at a clock to ascertain it, the ambient conditions
(temperature, humidity, precipitation, etc), how many people you saw,
whether you knew those people from previous acquaintance, feel you
could identify them again, etc. Describe what the person was wearing
as clearly as you can.

If you see someone striking an animal, don't just say "she was beating
on that dog." Describe how the person was striking the dog (open hand?
closed fist? object?) and a count or estimate of how many blows were
involved. Describe the dog's reaction to the beating, whether the dog
was cringing, yelping, trying to escape, etc. Describe the force the
blows by including the clues that let you know how heavy they were;
for instance, a kick that landed hard enough to move both the dog's
hind feet, a punch that landed hard enough on the dog's head to knock
the dog's front end to the ground, etc.

British Heavy Coloured Cob

In neglect cases, it's much better to describe than to diagnose. For
example, a report that says "the horse's ribs are prominent, the
horse has lost the fat pads along the top of the spine on the back, I
could see the individual spinal processes, the tailhead lacked fat and
was clearly visible above the hindquarters and the horse's neck has a
significant dip along the top side due to loss of normal fat deposits"
is far more effective than saying "the horse has a body condition
score of 2 to 2.5."

If you are reporting neglect, it's often a matter of showing a pattern
of neglect because otherwise the neglectful person could claim "I just
bought the horse in this condition." Keep a log and write down
everything relevant. Keep in mind the principle that if you don't
write it down, it didn't happen. Show or share your log with other
people to help bolster your case; if you keep a computer log, it's
easy to email the entries to one or two trusted friends.

If your contacts with the abusive/neglectful owner leads you to
believe they are not normal, be sure to describe as clearly as
possible what they say or do that leads you to that conclusion. Avoid
assigning a motive or diagnosis like "she acts like she is a hoarder"
or "she clearly doesn't care." Describe how the person laughs
inappropriately, makes statements that are irrelevant to your stated
concerns or has an unusually intense reaction.

An effective report comes down to painting a picture in words so that
the person reading your report feels they were there. The more details
you can include, the more effectively you will convey what happened
and the more likely it is that your complaint will be taken seriously.


  1. Good stuff, GD! I would add to take pictures if possible. As my friends put it "pics, or it didn't happen". A clearly written log is great, but adding pictures is even better.

  2. Well written and great points, GD.

  3. Helen,
    You are not hi jacking anything. Feel free to say what you need to say. Also, if you need to write an article to set the record straight then please do so. I feel that your statements are getting lost in the comment section and an article would bring your comments to the attention of everyone reading. If you wish to publish please send your article to

  4. Very well said. And it NEEDS to be said... often. Loudly. From rooftops.

    So many cases are lost because of inarticulate melodramatic people.

  5. Great article! If I run across a situation, I truly hope I can keep my temper in check to follow these instructions.

    Helen, I also hope to see an article about your new group. I am interested in the full story as well since this dialog up until you found this blog was very one-sided.

  6. Very well said . I agree .When reporting abuse , or any crime .Emotion and cionjecture need to be removed. Just the facts , what you actually observed.

  7. I worry about people who have old horses that get the accusing finger of neglect pointed at them because their elderly horse just can't keep weight on, no matter what they do for it.

    Also, did Helen delete her comment? :(

  8. Oops, my bad! The comments were on the other post! I should have read there first. I agree with Golightly's latest comment, dang.

  9. The other thing: sometimes it is appropriate to step in directly to stop a situation, such as if you witness an animal being actively abused.

    Before you do - be sure of your own safety! Are there witnesses? Is the abuser armed?

    If you do - stay calm. Being angry or abusive will only escalate the situation.

    Be prepared - you may find yourself with the critter dumped in your lap.

  10. Don't worry folks, that bright red glow emanating over the middle of the US is just my face!

    Thank you!

  11. Anonymous wrote: I worry about people who have old horses that get the accusing finger of neglect pointed at them because their elderly horse just can't keep weight on, no matter what they do for it.

    I did some rehabbing with neglected dogs and I know from experience that if you are on the straight and narrow, you have nothing to worry about.

    The key again is document, document, document!

    Keep a log of every vet visit and phone consult. Document what care that horse receives on a daily basis, document how you carry out the vet's suggestions, what the results are. Keep and date receipts for feed, supplements, medications and anything else purchased for the horse, to help demonstrate that the horse is receiving appropriate care.

    Establish benchmarks of condition relevant to that horse and include them in the log on a regular basis. Such benchmarks should include physical stuff like bodyweight and distribution of fat as well as activity levels and assessments of soundness.

    Remember, there's a difference between skinny and emaciated. A healthy geriatric horse may be skinny but should not be emaciated. A horse that is chronically emaciated is not a healthy horse.

    Finally, do reality checking on a regular basis. If you live with a skinny horse, you see that horse every day and you may not be as aware of slow changes in condition that someone who only sees the horse occasionally would be.

    Keep checking with people whose horse sense you trust to make sure that what you have is a horse who is skinny due to age and has not slipped over the line to being an emaciated horse. If there is nothing you can do to keep that horse above that line, then it's time to consider euthanasia.

  12. Excellent advice. Reputable observations are much more likely to receive attention.

    I also think calling law enforcement officials and shrieking "I saw a film on the internet and I think you should hang the dirty so and so in the film" does more harm than good. That type of behavior makes it easier to stereotype animal advocates as nut cases.

  13. Just me again. I tried sending a note to the sympatico addy and it was returned as invalid. So I'm thinking my email is comprimised ...again :)It's one of the fun factoids of our 'work'. We write ads then we open the responses and find all sorts of lovely surprises. I swear I've recieved more deliveries of more trojans than the local drug store :)It wouldn't take long to write a short article about the Rebels..But something UEUH said started me thinking- 'Comparing Apples to Oranges'-which was exactly the point I was trying to make. From the response, I'm wondering if we haven't failed, miserably, to explain the differences between the feedlot system and the warehouse system. And if, maybe, that would be the place to start...But getting back to the subject at hand. Gotta say I agree big-time with everyone, gather facts, ask questions and , unless you see it with your own eyes try to remain calm. We found a little horse, skinny as a rail, hooves overgrown, in really sad shape. We managed to re-home her, but it turned out, in the end that her Owner was in the hospital ( I'm assuming it was long-term care), and was expending every bit of her resources to pay a 'friend' to feed and care for her beloved companion - don't know how long this had been going on, but until the horse ended up on the feedlot, the owner had no idea that there was any sort of problem. A simple question would have spared that little Mare a lot of suffering.

  14. GD I bow to your insight and intelligence :)

  15. Wow Helen. The poor owner. That says it all about making sure you have the whole story before attacking, doesn't it.

  16. Anyone else amused that, all of a sudden, she's promoting shows that are "less competitive" than AQHA shows? Can BYC not make it in a QH show? She's going to have to compete in a crazy color registry to get enough points to call him a champion?

  17. And also shilling for a registry that simply registers your when you breed it you can say it's registered...and that would be different from the registries she's slammed HOW!?

    Yeah, I don't think BYC has it in him to run with the big dogs, *snork.* And that would be absolutely okay if she hadn't been such a hypocrite.

    I found an interesting site about HSUS while looking for info on the cow video. HumaneWatch.Org

  18. I find it quite Cathy. No talent, no horse and no money.

  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  20. Funnier..

    "Congratulations to Cathy & Cecil - 1st Place Green Western Horse at the ABRa show in Oregon this weekend."

    Tiny little clap.
    What's an ABRA?
    Like a Cadabra?

  21. Photos are of limited use in making complaints. Not that I'm saying they are useless! Far from it, the right photo can say it all. Who could ever forget the Vietnam era photo of a little girl running away from the napalm attack that burned off her clothes? That one photo summed up everything that was so very wrong about that war.

    But most people don't have the combination of skill, talent and luck to get that incredible image. Even now with point and shoot cameras that do everything for the photographer automatically, it is just not that easy.

    Nowadays people are saturated in visual images that have been PhotoShopped or even completely rendered via computer. There's a tendency to mentally discount images because of that little question "has this been 'fixed' somehow?"

    Needless to say, any photo or video you take as part of a complaint should not be retouched or PhotoShopped in any way.

    Another problem with photos is that they tend to flatten and minimise what the photographer saw. It takes a lot of skill to counteract that tendency without the help of PhotoShop, etc.

    Photographs also tend to wash out the variations of colour that make things stand out to human eyes. For instance, photos of beating victims often don't look anywhere near as dreadful as the victim does in real life because the photo just doesn't capture the range of colours that the human eye perceives.

    At the bottom line, when you complain to some authority about abuse/neglect, you are offering yourself as a witness. Which means potentially a witness in a trial of law. Your complaint gives the relevant authority their first look at how that case is likely to stand up in court.

    Yes, photos can help but you are more likely to get action with the right words unless you were skilled, talented and lucky enough to get that one in ten million image.

  22. I wish more people were aware of their legal statutes. Every state has slightly different definitions of abuse, and what looks like a slam dunk may not apply. There also may be a statute that does apply to the situation that may not be well known. You are much more credible if you know that what you are reporting is prosecutable.

  23. If you are interested, this is a youtube video of a white moose from my home town of Timmins, Ontario:


  24. anon 8:13, ABRA is the American Buckskin Registry Association.

    Along with the Pinto Regsitry, one of those krazy kolor registries that Cathy so frequently bashes. What a hypocrite.

  25. Helen, I saw you article. I will email you stuff... Love you bunches for putting up with the crap....

  26. Great what about after the rescue has seized the horses? If you google Indiana Horse Rescue you'll see 13 Morgans that were seized June 12th.. And of course they are begging for funds for the horses, but not much on before and after photos of any of their other horses. I would like to see actual education on the website also, not a link that says "updating soon". I would LOVE to help with rescues, but we just don't have any quality ones here in Indiana. What about a gelding program, I see at least 3 or 4 stallions in the Morgan rescue.

  27. A little late stepping into this post, but I do want to say something. As an Animal Control Officer, I know that in MY jurisdiction we DO NOT want you to step in and feed any animals that "appear neglected." It is MUCH better to observe and document, then CALL us and let us take it from there. If you start feeding and watering an animal, then that animal is no longer "neglected" as it is being fed and watered.

    I cannot say this is the same everywhere, but you might want to check in with your local authorities to see what the laws are in your area.