Animal Emergency Guide

What to do if you see a situation where animals are suffering and you think the law is being broken


•  Make sure you have your facts straight. 

•  Be prepared to state the exact address and location of the animals, exact details of the situations (do not exaggerate or use colorful language, be very specific about the animals’ situation and related suffering), the last time you saw them (it is very important to call when you witness a situation, if you delay a few hours or a day or a week, the situation could be temporarily improved - as in weather related cases, or the animal/s may be severely injured or dead). 

When you call animal control or law enforcement:

Don’t overreact.  Be prepared to work WITH animal control and let them do their job.  Allow appropriate time to respond. Be respectful and polite.   (Stop and think -- Who would you rather work with?  Someone who is pleasant and professional or someone who is demanding and angry?  Which attitude will get better results for the animals??)

•  Try and be brave enough to offer your name.  You are the only voice the animals have.   Tips from actual sources are better received than anonymous sources.  If you must remain anonymous, explain your fear of retribution and remind law enforcement they get reliable anonymous tips all the time from people reporting crime, the location of criminals, drunk drivers, and child abuse victims. 

•  Be prepared to cite the laws that you have witnessed being broken (copies of local ordinances and state laws are available through the mayor’s office, county clerk’s office, attorney general’s office, or APNM –  Many law enforcement officers are not familiar with animal laws - so make the information accessible to them. 

•  Request that the case be given a case number and request that a report be written, even if formal charges are not filed.  This will allow you to follow up on the action taken on the case more easily and request copies of reports.  This also creates a paper trail for repeated abuse scenarios. 

•  Let the officer know you expect charges to be filed if the law is being broken.  Law enforcement can always stipulate on the ticket that the charges will be dropped if conditions improve in a reasonable amount of time (i.e., failing to provide a dog with shelter is against the law, a ticket can be written and the charges dismissed if the dog gets adequate shelter within 24 - 48 hours).  Owners can release custody of animals in place of charges. 

•  Ask if you need to file a formal complaint for the situation to be investigated or charged.  Be brave enough to follow through. 

•  Tell the officer you expect animals who are in immediate distress: an untreated injury; a dog without shelter during a storm or extreme weather, to be taken into protective custody.   There is no excuse not to do this -- a local vet, shelter, or foster home can take the animal until conditions are improved or the case is resolved in the courts. 

•  You may have to remind them that just because “everyone else is doing that” the law still needs to be enforced.  Drunk driving and domestic violence were once ignored because “everyone was doing it”. 

•  Request follow up on the situation if the animal is left there and no charges are filed.

•  Make sure to follow up on the case and request a copy of the reports or charges.  This helps with accountability and, if you have to report the incident again, you can refer to previous action taken.

•  Laws and ordinances that protect animals have to be given equal consideration to other laws.  Law enforcement cannot arbitrarily decide which laws they will enforce.  

Who to call:         Follow recommendations in APNM’s “Quick Guide”.

Generally for domestic animals in the county call Animal Control and/or the Sheriff’s office.  In many cases, the Sheriff’s department will be charged with enforcing animal ordinances or may also wear the Animal Control Officer hat.

Generally for domestic animals in the city limits, call Animal Control or the Municipal Police Department. 

If the situation cannot wait for a response from animal control departments who are not acting you can try calling the State Police.

For cases involving livestock, call the Livestock Board. 

If you don’t get any response, contact department supervisors.  If you still don’t get a response, call the supervisor’s supervisor.  Document any lack of response in a letter form and send it to department supervisors – you may want to cc (send a copy) city or county managers, city councilors or county commissioners, city or county attorneys and city or county risk management departments.  Creating a paper trail in a dysfunctional system to alert management and decision makers about shortcomings is inherent to fixing the problem – make sure you allow adequate time to respond and have your facts straight before pursuing this course of action.  Use the least amount of pressure necessary to fix the problem.  Often one phone call can change a situation. 

-- Unless this is an immediate life or death situation that is not being addressed, please give all of these agencies/people adequate time to respond and act on the call you’ve made and the information given.  Use media as a last resort and only for extremely urgent cases that are truly being handled incorrectly or inadequately. Don’t misuse the power of the media for situations that could be handled in another way. 

If there is still no action taken, consider calling print and broadcast media.  Ask to speak to a reporter.  Explain the problem with the animal/s and the lack of action by law enforcement.  You can remain anonymous with media, but you may want to arrange a time to call them back in case they have follow up questions.   Always allow agencies a last chance to respond before contacting the media.

Again -- make sure you have your facts straight.  Consider this:

A case of starving horses was reported repeatedly to one agency and the horses were actually rescued horses who had just been removed from a cruel situation and were being rehabilitated. 

A dog with a dangling leg was reported to several agencies.  When asked to describe which leg was injured, the complainant referred to it as “the leg with all the stitches” -- the dog had been hit by a car, had already been taken to the vet, and was receiving treatment. 

In most cases, the only way to achieve a better situation for an animal is:

Act quickly.      Be persistent but pleasant.      Know the law.

Don’t let your emotions interfere with the factual interpretation of the case.

Be persistent!

Related articles

New Mexico Animal Law Online
Know the law: city and county animal ordinances

New Mexico Animal Resources Guide
Statewide animal services and Government Agency Directory

How to investigate a case of animal cruelty