It's an unfortunate fact of life that there is still a great deal of animal cruelty in the world. We are all familiar with the high profile types of cruelty, such as annual seal hunts for fur and illegal dog fighting and cockfighting, which continues to plague our society.

While it may be somewhat diffi cult to have a direct and immediate impact on reducing those types of horrors, there is something we can all do to reduce animal cruelty. Simply by being a little more aware of what's going on in your own community and neighborhood, you may be able to make a positive difference in the life of an abused animal.

The first step is being able to identify and recognize animal abuse. Some types of abuse are easy to spot, of course, such as an owner striking or choking his or her pet, as well as more extreme behaviors, such as someone spray painting or setting an animal on fire. (As horrible as that sounds, those things do happen.)

Being able to identify these behaviors first requires that you become a little more aware of where the pets in your neighborhood live. Simply keeping an eye out for where you see dogs and cats in your neighbors’ yards and making a mental note of this information should be enough.

Many times you won't see abuse as it actually happens, but you can see the telltale signs afterwards. For example, if you notice that a neighborhood dog has new patches of missing fur, noticeably limps or has other injuries, is underweight or is chained outdoors without shelter, food or water, these may be signs of abuse. Of course, these symptoms don't automatically mean abuse, so if you are concerned you may want to politely inquire — in as sympathetic a manner as possible, without any accusatory tone — of the owner what happened to his or her pet. Sometimes accidents do happen, and pets do get sick.

The next step is to report the cruelty you see. If you are confident that you could speak with the owner directly (perhaps if you are already friends with him or her), you might wish to do so. But many times even your friends are not always receptive to someone questioning the type of relationship they have with their pets.

Instead, call the appropriate local authorities. Your town or city may have a Humane Society that has the authority to handle these types of complaints. If not, you may need to call the local police department or other law enforcement agency with the cruelty complaint. It is always helpful when making a complaint to have as much information as possible. If you can, you might want to document the animal abuse with the few quick snapshots on your phone camera.

If everyone keeps an eye out for signs of animal abuse and cruelty, together we can reduce the unfortunate impact it has on helpless pets.

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