Many animals are part of loving homes where they are treated like a member of the family. As such, their owners provide them with the food they need and fresh water to drink every day. Their bedding is clean and comfortable, and they always have somewhere warm to sleep. The pet is groomed when needed, and their owners don’t hesitate to take them to the vet should they need treatment, as they want them to be healthy. They care about their pet’s welfare and will go to any lengths to ensure they are well looked after.
Sadly, not every animal is as fortunate. Many go to homes where their owners are unable to care for them in the best way possible, sometimes through no fault of their own. The pet may suffer due to the financial difficulty experienced by their owners, who can’t afford food or veterinary care. An inexperienced owner might not know or understand what their pet needs, meaning the animal is neglected as a result. Other people deliberately abuse their pet through intentional neglect, or even physical violence.
Many animals are abandoned by their owners for a variety of reasons. Some move and leave their pet behind without access to food and water. Others abandon them in the wild, believing they are setting them free. This can lead to a multitude of problems, as domesticated animals can struggle to compete for food against wild animals, and ecosystems can be affected from the influence of a new species. Those that do survive become strays. Other pets are left at shelters for many reasons, often if their owner was unable to look after them, or if they couldn’t cope with the amount of responsibility that caring for a pet requires.
Abuse and neglect
Recognising abuse and neglect is not quite as simple as you may think. There are many reasons why an animal exhibits behavioural traits such as aggression or fear, and not necessarily because their owner is abusing them. There are various clues you can look out for.
Make note of any open wounds the animal has, including those that won’t heal or are infected, as well as any rashes, bumps or scaly areas that don’t appear to have been treated. Wounds around the neck area could demonstrate that a collar has been fastened too tight. Check for any problems with the fur, parasitic infestations and signs the pet hasn’t been groomed such as extreme matting, dirt and loss of hair. Overgrown nails are another indication of neglect, as is heavy discharge from the nose and eyes. The animal may also be extremely thin to the point where bones are visible.
Be aware of changes to temperament and behaviour, for example, if the pet seems confused or extremely drowsy. Other things to look out for are the animal struggling to move or walk, weakness, or pain from limping or otherwise. A dog constantly barking for a long period of time is signalling that it needs help and should not be ignored. An animal that has been trained to fight may have open wounds, missing body parts or scars, whilst animal hoarding is another form of cruelty. This is when many are kept all together in the same place without appropriate care. Note how the animal behaves around their owner, as any extreme aggressiveness or shyness can be an indicator of abuse. If you ever witness anyone striking an animal or physically abusing them in any way, you must report it immediately.
Environmental signs include the animal being kept outside alone for long periods of time with no shelter in uncomfortable weather conditions. You might never see food and water sources, and the area could be unsafe with faeces, broken glass or rubbish. The animal may also be tied up or caged for lengthy periods, or crowded into a kennel or cage with several others and unable to stand, turn around or move normally inside it.
If you suspect an animal is being abused or neglected, you must report it to the RSPCA, who can assess the animal’s condition and the next steps that need to be taken. The only way animal abuse can be eradicated is through the vigilance of witnesses who respond to it. Remember that an animal’s life may depend on whether or not their situation is reported in time, so act immediately.
Abused and neglected animals are frequently taken into shelters, where they are rehabilitated. Some are then fortunate enough to go on to live in a permanent, loving home.
Stray and feral animals
A stray is an animal that doesn’t have a home with humans, but was likely to have had one at some time in their life. On the other hand, feral animals are wild and therefore quite content to live outside and look after themselves. An animal is treated like a stray if they do not have a collar or ID tag, and no other form of identification such as a microchip. If you suspect an animal is a stray, be cautious when approaching because you don’t know how they will react. They could have had negative experiences with people in the past, which might influence their behaviour. An animal could belong to someone and may have gone missing recently, especially if they are friendly towards you. If they are feral, they will probably not be used to human contact and may therefore react aggressively or warily. If you are able to, take the animal to a vet to check for a microchip. You must try to trace any potential owner before deciding to keep the pet yourself.
How you can help
You can help an animal that doesn’t have a loving home by providing one for them. There are numerous rescue centres around the country with a variety of animals to choose from. If you are planning to get a new pet, why not consider adopting?
Protect your pet by insuring them. Animal Friends offer a range of policies for you to choose from, some of which will provide help if your pet should go missing.