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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.
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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.