I’ve known people who have done this in Mexico and Central America where dogs are often left tied up outdoors for days at a time, often without fresh water or food. In places like that where there is no Animal Control to call, I can understand animal lovers feeling compelled to take matters into their own hands. In fact, when I was living on Roatan, some friends started a wild animal shelter to care for exotic animals like jaguars that were kept as pets when they were small, and then either confiscated by police or citizens who saw them tied up and mistreated. It was incomprehensible that people were stupid enough to think they could handle a wild animal after it grew out of it’s cuddly kitten stage.

Legally Speaking – No

In the United States the law considers pets to be property, so stealing them is a felony, and in some states, punishable by up to 4 years in prison. So, for that reason alone, trying to be a hero and rescue a mistreated animal is taking a big risk. In this age of smartphones pretty much everything we do has a pretty good chance of being documented on someone’s camera. Instead of being the one caught on tape, set up your own surveillance and catch the bad pet owners in the act. Report them to Animal Control, and you’ll have some evidence to back up your story.

If you are concerned that an animal is starving or dehydrated, try to give it food and water because depending on the area where you live, and how busy Animal Control is, it may take some time for them to arrive on the scene.

Animals rescued from neglect and abuse are taken to an animal shelter or humane society where their injuries will be treated, and their overall health assessed. They will be evaluated to see if they can be adopted or if it makes more sense to put them in foster care until they are rehabilitated enough for adoption. In severe cases, the animal may have to be euthanized.

Life Or Death

In a situation that you believe to be life or death for an animal, and you feel compelled to do something about it, start dialing as you take action. Call 911, report that you are making a citizen’s arrest to stop a violent attack on an animal. They will keep you on the line and talk you through it. Make sure that you are safe, because if you have to step onto someone’s property you are at great risk, especially in states where the castle doctrine doesn’t require people to retreat into their homes. People who think nothing of hurting an animal will likely not hesitate to hurt you when they feel threatened. Another safety issue to consider is that animals who have been abused are often terrified of people and can be dangerous as a result. The dog may attack out of fear because they don’t know or trust you, or anyone for that matter.

Whether you report an issue to get involved in the rescue, you have to be prepared and willing to testify in court as to what you witnessed otherwise there’s no point in getting involved at all.

Emily Grant is a reviewer of animal products and volunteer at the ASPCA who often writes about animal welfare with the goal of educating pet owners.