Watchdog: Take action after witnessing animal abuse

May 11, 2011 at 12:11 a.m.

As the season's temperature increases, so too will the number of certain phone calls this newspaper and Victoria animal control officers receive.

Many residents will call to express concern about the welfare of animals.

Most of the calls center on similar concerns: a dog lacks shade or is chained to a tree and can't reach its water bowl, for example, or livestock appears too thin and unhealthy.

So, as summer approaches - or anytime, for that matter - we asked this question: What do you do if you see pets or livestock believed to be neglected or suffering?

While you can always call the newspaper, it's better for the animal, at least at first, to contact the proper authorities.

Bain Cate, director of the Victoria City-County Health Department, detailed the avenues you can take to report such concerns. The health department oversees the animal control shelter.

Q: If someone sees a domestic animal in the county that appears neglected, what can be done?

Cate: Call animal control or the sheriff's office. Either will take the complaint and notify the other agency, depending on which one has the best response available. Typically, though, animal control initiates the investigations, unless there is a public safety concern. Sometimes, both agencies' employees show up on the scene simultaneously.

Q: What if you see such an animal within city limits?

Cate: Call animal control or the police department. (The same response protocol from above applies here).

Q: What role does the Victoria City-County Health Department play in the "policing" of animal abuse or neglect cases?

Cate: Animal control acts as a consultant most of the time, investigating the situation and determining if a neglect or abuse issue is present. Then, we ask the various enforcement agencies - the police department, sheriff's office, municipal court and/or a justice of the peace - to help with the legal issue of prosecution and/or impoundment of the animal to protect it from further damage.

Unfortunately, enforcement in these situations takes a peace officer and/or a judge to rule on the facts of the case prior to confiscating private property, in this case the animal.

Cate finished this talk by noting animal control lacks the authority to act as an enforcement agency for abuse or neglect cases, unlike the many agencies chronicled in TV shows.

It should also be noted pet owners who abuse or neglect animals face misdemeanor charges; they face a state jail felony if previously convicted twice.

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at



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