Reporting neglected pets and cruelty to animals

Region: Ontario Answer # 4037

If you discover an animal is being neglected or treated cruelly, or appears in distress, there are at least three ways you can help.

If you witness a neglected pet or case of animal cruelty and need help, call a lawyer now.

Animals in distress include those:

  • Needing proper care, water, food or shelter.
  • Injured, sick, in pain, suffering or being abused.
  • Suffering undue or unnecessary hardship or neglect.

1. Report it to municipal or regional authorities

Local by-laws may provide minimal requirements for the care of so-called “companion animals” or pets. The types of animals covered will be listed in the by-laws and it may vary, depending on where you live. Some typical by-law requirements include the:

  • Need to provide proper care and attention to the animal’s needs
  • Need to ensure that fresh water is available at all times
  • Minimum or maximum length of a leash for an animal
  • Requirement for some form of shelter from the weather

To find out what by-laws are in place in your community, contact your municipal or regional animal services or local Humane Society. If you believe that local by-laws have been violated, report it to the local animal services as soon as possible. These public officers have powers under the by-law to investigate all complaints and service requests relating to animal care and /or non-compliance with the by-laws. If it is determined that animal cruelty is taking place, they will contact local police.

If an individual is charged, the case will be heard by a justice of the peace. If an individual is found guilty, the justice of the peace can order the person to pay a fine, or to be imprisoned.

It is useful, though not necessary, to have a detailed written or visual record, such as photographs of anything you see, and a written account of what you heard and when it happened. When you make a complaint, you may be asked to give a verbal or written statement of what you witnessed or believe is happening.

2. Report it to provincial animal welfare services or an animal protection organization

Provincial Animal Protection Hotline

As of January 1, 2020, the Ontario Government’s Animal Welfare Services team handles animal protection services in Ontario.  To report an incidence of overcrowding, neglect, and/or distress, call 1-833-926-4625. It is also acceptable to call 911 in the case of an emergency, where there is immediate danger or distress.

If a complaint is made online or through the Animal Protection Hotline, depending on its nature, it may be flagged for further investigation by local law enforcement agencies.

New Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act

The new Provincial Animal Services Welfare Act (PAWS) creates the first fully provincial government-based animal welfare enforcement system in Canada. It is enforced by a specialized team of about 100 provincial inspectors, including those with specialized expertise in livestock, zoos, aquariums and equines. The new law:

  • includes the strongest penalties in Canada for people who violate animal welfare laws, such as large fines of up to $1 million for corporations found guilty of animal cruelty that are repeat offenders,
  • bars the return of dog fighting equipment to a person convicted of an offence and harming or attempting to harm a service animal or one that works with peace officers, and
  • allows inspectors to save pets left in cars in extreme weather conditions.

The Act includes basic standards of care for all animals covered under the Act, such as:

  • adequate and appropriate food, water, medical attention and care
  • ventilation, light and protection from the elements, including harmful temperatures
  • sanitary conditions and space to enable natural movement and exercise
  • pens or enclosed structures
  • humane euthanasia to minimize pain and distress to animals
  • transportation in a manner that ensures an animal’s physical safety and general welfare

Ontario SPCA Enforcement Support Services

The Ontario SPCA’s mission is animal protection and animal advocacy. It recently developed the Ontario SPCA Enforcement Support Services to work with and support police in their role of responding to cases of animal cruelty.

Enforcement Support Services will:

“assist law enforcement agencies with collecting evidence to build cases against animal abusers… Once a case of animal cruelty is being investigated, Ontario SPCA Enforcement Support Services will respond with appropriate animal-related resources when contacted by law enforcement agencies.”

These resources and other related services include:

  • providing on-site support for animal care, including veterinary medicine;
  • animal behaviour assessments and rehabilitation;
  • animal transportation;
  • the sheltering and placement of rescued animals in homes or other suitable environments;
  • animal care and wellness services;
  • legal support and animal law briefings.

3. Report it to the police

You also may be able to have an individual or company criminally prosecuted under the Criminal Code for cruelty to animals. The Criminal Code gives the police the authority to investigate complaints of animal cruelty and to lay charges where appropriate. Be aware that the police are not always familiar with this part of the Code, but you are entitled to make a complaint and have them investigate it.

The Criminal Code sets out numerous offences for cruelty to animals. The most common are:

  1. Wilfully causing or permitting unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal or bird.
  2. Owning or having custody or control of an animal, and abandoning the animal in distress, or wilfully neglecting or failing to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter and care.
  3. Participating in the “fighting” or “baiting” of animals.

Again, it is useful, though not necessary, to have a detailed written or visual record, such as photographs of anything you see or hear and a record of when it happened. In order to investigate the situation and possibly lay criminal charges, when you make a complaint to the police, they will ask you to give a statement of what you witnessed or believe is happening.

If found guilty, and depending on how serious the charge is, the owner may be ordered to pay a fine of up-to $10,000, may receive a jail sentence of up-to five years, or can be prohibited from owning any animals for a period of up-to five years. Further, if found guilty under the Criminal Code, the individual will have a criminal record.


If the police will not help

If the police are is not helpful in prosecuting a cruelty charge, any member of the public can go before a justice of the peace and initiate the proceedings. To do this, you must go to your local court office and appear before a justice of the peace, in order to swear what is called an information. An information is a simple legal document containing details of the alleged offence. When you meet with the justice of the peace, you will have to explain what happened and swear an oath that you have good reason to believe a criminal offence has been committed.

As per the Criminal Code, because the information is brought to the court by a private citizen, the justice of the peace must then refer it to a provincial court judge, or in Quebec, a judge of the Court of Quebec, or another designated justice of the peace, who will hold a special hearing to decide if the person you accused should be compelled to attend court and answer to the charge. If during the hearing it is determined that an offence has been committed, the justice will issue a summons or warrant which is a document that orders the person to come to court on a certain day.

Get help

If you witness a neglected pet or case of animal cruelty and need help, call a lawyer now.


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