Animal Abuse

Animal Abuse

What is Animal Abuse?

Animal abuse, or animal cruelty is the crime of inflicting physical pain, suffering or death on an animal, usually a tame one, beyond necessity for normal discipline. It can include neglect that is so monstrous (withholding food and water) that the animal has suffered, died or been put in imminent danger of death.

Animal abuse can be a precursor to abuse and violence towards humans and/or a component of domestic violence. Like shared children, family pets are often used by abusers as a way to demonstrate power and control over their partner by threatening, harming, or sadly even killing beloved pets.


Who is Affected by Animal Abuse?

While not all cases of animal abuse are connected with domestic abuse. It has been reported that up to 40% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusers because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave; 65% of women who report prior pet abuse continue to worry for their pets' welfare long after they themselves have left.


Red Flags of Animal Abuse (from HSUS):

  • Poor body condition and noticeable trauma: The animal has severe matting and a filthy coat, open sores or obvious wounds. It appears to be flea or tick infested. It’s underweight with bones clearly visible. It might be limping or unable to walk at all, or have congested eyes or ears. It is in obvious physical distress and in need of veterinary care.
  • Lack of food or water: Every time you see this animal, you notice that it has no obvious sources of food and/or water. It may be aggressive due to starvation and thirst, and perhaps very lethargic.
  • Lack of shelter: The animal is contained in an area fully exposed to inclement weather or constant sun.
  • Lack of sanitation: Feces and/or debris cover the animal’s living area.
  • Abandoned: The animal is left in a house or yard that appears empty. Reports of companion animals abandoned and left to die inside vacant buildings or apartment units are alarmingly common, and it’s a crime in all 50 states to abandon an animal. If you notice a neighbor has moved or has stopped visiting a residence where you know animals live, be extra vigilant. Some dogs bark and whine to express their anxiety when they’re left alone, but a dog that is howling or barking for several hours is sending a clear signal that it is in need of immediate, life-saving care.
  • The animal is tied or caged: It has little room to move, and/or is unable to stand or turn.
  • There are chains or padlocks around or embedded into the animal’s neck: This includes regular collars, too. A chained animal is an abused animal.
  • The animal shows evidence of being trained for or having been used to fight: This is especially common with Pit Bull Terriers and even roosters. You may see training implements, treadmills, spring poles, etc. More likely, you’ll notice obvious signs of trauma, such as scars, open wounds, infections or even missing body parts, such as ears or partial tails.
  • The animal’s behavior is far from normal: It may be very aggressive or severely shy (e.g., cowering, hiding, fear-biting), even with or especially with its owner.
  • There are too many animals living on one property: This can be a sign of animal hoarding.
  • An owner being overtly violent against the animal, striking or otherwise physically abusing it.

If you notice these signs for any animal or your partner is perpetrating any of these acts, we can help. Safe Voices advocates and shelter staff want to work with victims of domestic abuse to keep their pets safe. Call our help line at 1-800-559-2927 and we will work with you for the safety of your pet.

With regard to service animals at shelter, we support and follow laws and guidelines for disabled persons and use the Maine Human Rights Act as a model for our policy. For more information, please contact


If you are in an abusive relationship and worried for the safety of your pet, the Humane Society of the United States suggest that you:

  • Register your pets in your own name, as proof that you are the owner of that pet.
  • Prepare the pets for a quick departure: collect vaccination records, pet license, medical records, and other documents, bowls, bedding.
  • See if a family member or friend can care for your pet for a while.
  • Contact local humane societies to see if they have a program to keep pets of victims of domestic violence.
  • Ask for help from animal care and control officers or law enforcement if pets need to be retrieved from the abuser. Never reclaim animals alone.