What to do if you suspect animal neglect

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, December 16, 2023

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By Ellen Brabo, For Washington Daily News

Recognizing signs of animal neglect or cruelty and comprehending the necessary steps to take can wield significant influence. Residents play a pivotal role in safeguarding pets, especially during the colder months when the risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and even death becomes more pronounced for animals left without adequate food or shelter. 

Local law enforcement and Beaufort County Animal Services (BCAS), jointly address aspects of potential animal abuse cases when responding to calls of suspected neglect or mistreatment. BCAS often collaborates with law enforcement, aiming to resolve situations without immediate confiscation. In cases of abuse, the police department seeks guidance from BCAS. 

“We will go over there and look at [the animal] to make sure it has all of the things that it needs – food, water, shelter, that sort of thing,” said Phil Rollinson, Chief of Police for the City of Washington, delineating the actions taken after receiving a call regarding suspicion of animal abuse or neglect. “If it is in a bad state, we will call animal services and come up with a plan of action. We don’t just leave them sitting there.”

When reporting neglect within the city limits, citizens can make an anonymous tip to the police department. However, outside the city limits in Beaufort County, individuals must provide identification when reporting animal cruelty or neglect to BCAS. Melanie Sawyer, Animal Services Manager at BCAS, assured that personal information remains confidential, as the goal is to protect the animals without causing concerns among neighbors.

“We have to have complainants to go out and check on animals,” explained Sawyer. “We can’t do anonymous. If you are worried about an animal, you have to be willing to give us some information.”

To guide citizens, the City of Washington has outlined specific regulations related to animal care in chapter four of the Municipal Code. These include provisions regarding negligent care of animals, public nuisance, animal removal, abandoned animals, and penalties for violations.

One noteworthy provision is Sec. 4-38, dealing with the negligent care of animals. This section prohibits owners from failing to provide proper shelter, food, water, exercise, and veterinary care for their pets. Sec. 4-47, regarding animal removal, outlines the process of confiscating and removing animals for code violations. In instances of neglect or abuse, this provision empowers authorities to intervene, prioritizing the welfare of the animal.

“Neither the county or the city can do anything if we aren’t informed of it,” emphasized Sawyer. “We need people to be brave enough to actually call so we can get out there to save the animal.” 

Residents are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the regulations and take prompt action when witnessing potential violations. 

“The best course of action is to call the police department, and we will work closely with animal services to ensure the well-being of the animal,” reiterated Rollinson. 

To report suspicions of neglect or cruelty, concerned citizens should contact the City of Washington Police Department at (252) 946-1444. If outside of the Washington city limits, Beaufort County citizens are directed to contact BCAS at (252) 946-4517.