When You Know a Dog Is in Danger

This is an issue so many animal lovers face, and it’s a tough one. What if someone you know well, are related to, or see every day doesn’t treat their dog the way they should? Here is a step-by-step guide to evaluating the situation.

CODE RED problems

First of all, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on CODE RED problems. There is no set list of conditions that define CR problems, but broadly, I consider such problems to be ones where the dog:

  • is abused or neglected, whether deliberately or not.
  • receives inadequate food or veterinary care.
  • has limited or no shelter or is being kept chained outside.
  • is kept in circumstances where they are repeatedly at risk for being seriously injured or killed.

In most cases, the first attempt to help this dog should be via friendly intervention. You might approach the pet owner and offer solutions that any good friend or neighbor might suggest, such as:

  • Offering to petsit when they are on vacation.
  • Taking their animal on a walk with your dog — say you are looking for a second dog and you want to see how your dog does with another animal.
  • Dropping off a bag of pet food your dog “just won’t eat.”
  • Saying you have a spare crate or doghouse.

If you are successful in any of these, it will give you an in to help this dog later, and it will improve their circumstances and quality of life immediately. However, in my experience, you shouldn’t devote a lot of time to trying to persuade people with CR dogs that they need to change their ways. It rarely works because these people have a very limited idea of how dogs should be treated. Therefore, this is an effort that should take weeks at most, NOT months or years.

If you can’t make any progress, it’s time for you to make friends with your local animal control officer. Your first step is to learn the laws concerning treatment and housing of dogs (most of these deal with chaining, availability of water and shelter), and if you see it being violated, call the ACO. Normally the ACO will investigate and will not disclose your name to the dog owner. In most cases, multiple incidents have to be investigated before something will happen, so get that paper trail started.

If the whole neighborhood is up in arms about the way a dog is being treated, it can be in your best interest to introduce a good cop/bad cop dynamic. One of the neighbors can be the good cop who is sympathetic, while the rest of the neighborhood can be the bad cops who report things to Animal Control.  If you are the “good cop” who has always sympathized and commented on how you sure would love to have a dog like theirs someday, you might find them approaching you if they are backed into the corner.

Finding a better place

While these visits from ACO are taking place, you need to find someone who can take this dog if it becomes available. Sometimes you will have only the tiniest window of opportunity, so it helps to have some backup ready. This could be a rescue, a friend, yourself, or even a shelter if necessary. Make sure to take pictures and see if you can find ways to sweeten the deal by raising money for vetting or training. I’ll be honest with you: you probably don’t want to see this dog go to a shelter if it can be avoided. Neglected and abused animals are often the first to be euthanized because they have behavioral problems once they get into the shelter. These problems are almost all temporary, but most shelters don’t have the time or the resources to do anything about them.

Let’s say you are approached by the owner who asks you to take the dog. What if you can’t do it? That’s why you want to have a plan in place, and you should also know of some boarding facilities/vets that will take the dog in the short-term if necessary. Overall, though, even if you are not ready, my advice is to say that you will anyway, and figure out a way to keep that dog for a short period of time while you look for a rescue or suitable owner.  Remember, you’ll often have a very small window of opportunity when the owner will consider giving the dog to you. They might ask for money for their dog. Disregard the ethical issues of paying this person. Just give the money to them. Jump at it. If you don’t have enough money, tell him you’ll give him the rest at payday and start a GoFundMe. There are a lot of people who will pony up a few dollars if it will get an abused or starved dog into a safe place.

What if the owner is hostile, and animal control refuses to do anything?  Then you need to really look at the problem, including all the moving parts. Is there a sympathetic family member? Can you make it financially difficult for the owner to keep doing what they have been doing? Have you considered public shaming? Go to the well. Trust me when I say that you are a better schemer and more ruthless than you could ever imagine.

It’s important to remember to seize your opportunity when it appears. We had a case where an outside dog kept on getting loose from his chain on a busy street. The dog would always show up at the same house. Then the neighbor would call the dog’s owner or the ACO and return the dog again and again. Finally, one day the dog was hit by a car and died in the street. Pretty soon the owners had a new dog, and the cycle started all over again, except that this time when the dog got loose and ended up at the Good Samaritan’s house, she didn’t call the ACO, she called her sister-in-law in another county, who said she could keep the dog until they could find a rescue or a good home. She didn’t lose a minute’s sleep over it.

Finally, you’ll notice that I haven’t addressed “old school” rescue — i.e., taking a dog from a life-threatening situation without the consent of the owners. That’s because it’s stealing, and therefore illegal. I can’t recommend doing that, for obvious reasons. Know this, though: if you are going to make a decision to save a dog that way, you need to be aware of the consequences, which could be jail or fines. I’m assuming you already know the consequences of inaction, of course.


By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

4 replies on “When You Know a Dog Is in Danger”

One of my neighbors has a dog who is almost never on a leash, and if it *is* on a leash, usually said leash is not attached to anything other than the dog’s collar, which really defeats the purpose. A few weeks ago, I was doing some work in my front yard, & the dog was on the upstairs porch, barking. Reassurance: this doesn’t end as badly as you might think. I watched in awe & bafflement as the dog crawled under the porch railing & stood on the outside part of the porch. That is, if it had jumped or slipped, *nothing* would have stopped it from falling onto the driveway.

And let’s not ignore the first time I encountered the dog, when I was walking to my car and s/he ran across my lawn & missed jumping into my car by less than one second.

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