Sunday, March 04, 2007


Down the road a neighbor's dog is leashed up for eight to 10 hours a day in a fenced yard while its owners are at work. No water is put out for the animal, which is so skinny that it wobbles on its long legs as it walks around.

Enter my reader P.L., who lives in the same neighborhood in southern California. Before she retired P.L. ran a pet-walking business. She knows borderline neglect when she sees it, she says, and she clearly sees it whenever she passes this wobbly dog chained to its house.

"I sneak it a water container," P.L. writes, adding that several times a week she also gets it a dog biscuit.

Few people like to see an animal suffer, or at least appear to suffer. Providing it with water when it's thirsty would strike few as overstepping any bounds. Feeding it without knowing if it has any special dietary issues may be pushing things a bit. But the good of providing nourishment to an apparently hungry animal outweighs passing by and doing nothing.

How far should you go, however, when you believe that a neighbor isn't caring correctly for a pet?

P.L. decided that the dog should be released from its leash so that it could get into the grassy part of its fenced-in yard to relieve itself. She walked into the yard and unsnapped the leash. Then she went home.

The next thing she knew, P.L. got a call from the neighbor threatening to press charges of trespassing against her. The neighbor's dog had escaped its yard and been picked up by the local dog catcher. P.L. paid the pound fine, but still feels terrible about the whole situation.

When I asked P.L. why she didn't report her neighbors before entering their yard to release the dog, she said that her hesitancy was partly out of fear of retaliation when they figured out who had turned them in. The other reason was that she believes her neighbors may deserve a break because they are in denial.

"They do evidently think that they're adequate owners," she says.

All of which leaves P.L. wondering whether she's done the right thing to date and what would be the right thing to do going forward.

"Should I just be minding my own business, reporting animal abuse or what?" she asks.

If P.L. believes that the neighbor's dog is being abused, she's right not to simply mind her own business. Too many people turn a blind eye to situations which disturb them, only to regret their inaction later on, after the situation has deteriorated into something far worse.

But P.L. should not have entered her neighbor's yard to release the dog from its leash. It was neither the safe thing nor the right thing to do.

It's understandable that P.L. feels sorry for a dog which she thinks is being mistreated, but she has not been authorized to define animal abuse or to determine who is guilty of it. That responsibility rests with the appropriate governmental authorities, and the right thing for her to do would have been to call those authorities, report her concerns and let them determine whether the animal was in danger.

Would the neighbors have found out that she was the one who had reported them? Possibly, though it's often possible to make an anonymous report in such situations. But even if they did figure it out, they probably wouldn't feel any more animosity toward the neighbor who reported them than they do now toward the neighbor who popped uninvited into their fenced-in yard to free their dog.

While it's good to be a concerned neighbor, there are limits to how far you can or should go in trying to make things right.

There are also some people who should think twice before owning a pet, but that's another story for another day.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Jeff's assessment that the right thing to do is call animal welfare to check out the dog. It's not a comfortable thing to do, but it's not a comfortable situation to see an animal being neglected or worse, day after day. I have also called animal control over concerns for a dog tied up without water or, in one case, living in a filthy cage. I don't understand the contributor's reasoning, though, that "they deserved a break because they were in denial." It seems to me that being in denial over your neglect of an animal is neither here nor there. The owners should be warned and fined at least, or the animal removed from their custody. So what if they're angry with you?

Anonymous said...

No question that you should call the animal welfare people, also call the police so they are aware that you might have a problem with this neighbor. Please note that there is now a law in place in the So-cal area that makes it illegal to leave a dog chained for more than 6 hours at a time. Also, animal neglect is usually a sign of much deeper and more serious problems.

Anonymous said...

as the owner of a non profit that aids animals both in trauma and abuse, I would have said do not go on property unless dog was in exigent circumstances (dying) which would be hard to prove by a normal citizen because of being sued for trespassing.

Authorities should be called first at all times and everyone can remain anonymous in their reporting.

However, more people need to not worry about what others will think or care and report them anyway.

Yes it takes guts to get out there and DO SOMETHING that may require you putting yourself out or having someone know who you are. I have stood up for some things and had my mailbox blown up and pool vandalized but it still hasn't stopped me.

I know I have brought about change and affected the lives of dozens of animals. Moreover, gotten JUSTICE for animals that have been abused or died.

That feels very good.

Anonymous said...

I think most concerns by neighbors about pet owners are less about "mistreatment", which is mostly something the pet owner does behind closed doors, but more likely, neighbors are concerned when the pet (if a dog) barks at inconvenient times or excessively or if a cat, for instance, which may be allowed outdoors kills songbirds. In fact in the Charlotte area, there is a big flap going about cats running wild as opposed to being kept in the house, because of the killing of songbirds. Not much ethics involved in those examples. However, I think if a pet owner is mistreating a pet enough that a neighbor can see signs of injury to a pet, the neighbor should report this to authorities, and I don't think ethics enters much into the picture on that, you are not allowed to mistreat a pet.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

houweb said...

Making the whole situation harder is the fact that `the authorities' might eventually kill the dog if it ends up in the pound. At least the dog is being fed , must be getting some water ,and is not roaming the streets ...while the owners are without a doubt lacking in many ways , and the dog does not have a perfect life , who among us does?

Anonymous said...

Tough call. If you call the "authorities," you run the risk of alienating your neighbor. If you talk to the neighbor, and he blows you off, there's not much choice left but to "call the authorites."

People of good will will usually work things out by themselves without the "help" of the authorites, so neighbors owe it to themselves to get to know each other and make efforts to get along.

Dealing with your neighbor directly, is nearly always more productive and successful than bringing in the "authorites."

I have a great story, that happened to me about 10 years ago, when my house was being painted.

On a breezy day, when the painters showed up and took their first swipe across the side of the house with the spray gun, a gust of wind came along and blew paint into the yards of 2 neighbors, falling on a rose garden of one, and a new car of another.

The rose garden neighbor called me immediately and said, in a friendly voice, "your painters are painting my roses," knowing full well that I would react to such an event. I did. I sent the painters home and suggested they come back another day when the wind had died down. That was almost the end of it.

But the neighbor with the new car, (who is a recluse and not known by me) called the GOVERNMENT. Two
MONTHS later, long after the housepainting was done, 2 eco-bureaucrats show up with their clipboard and say they "got a complaint": about paint in the air. "Can we look around?"

They did, didn't find anything, and asked me to sign their clipboard so they could prove to their bosses that they answered their complaint, and drove away.

The point I'm making with this story is that if BOTH neighbors had called the GOVERNMENT, I never would have learned about the paint spattering the roses and
the new car until it had destroyed BOTH. Then I really would have been saddled with some serious cost

As it was, the rose garden neighbor forgave me and dismissed the problem because damage was minor. (The new car neighbor's son was more realistic, came to me
directly and asked for $200 to "detail the paint.")

Thus, through the kindliness of ONE neighbor who trusted my intentions, and believed that I would NOT want to paint her roses, I learned about the problem in time to solve it before any serious damage was done.

It is important that we all be involved to some degree with our neighbors and see each other as responsible adults. We should trust each other's good intentions
instead of assuming the worst. Keep the government out of all your transactions.

Don Hull
Costa Mesa, CA

Anonymous said...

I am all for protecting suffering animals. They never chose their lame owners, why should they suffer for it? Feeding and offering these creatures some attention, despite some risk, is not only the humane thing to do, it's the kind of world we should foster. The law is a practical guideline but often falls short on real ethics, doesn't it?