Neglected pets and cruelty to animals

Region: Ontario Answer # 456


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

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 control office or a local Humane Society. If there are municipal by-laws in place and you believe they have been violated, report it to the local animal control office as soon as possible. These public officers have powers under the law, such as the authority to warn the offender, to stop the cruel behaviour, or to charge them with violating the by-law.

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 an animal protection organization

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act gives organizations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or a Humane Society the authority to take action to protect animals in distress. This progressive law gives the authorities the right to inspect premises, other than homes, where animals are kept for exhibit, entertainment, boarding or for sale or hire. It also makes a supervising adult, such as a parent, responsible when a minor or child “owns” an animal. These organizations can usually issue orders under the law requiring that the animal’s owner take necessary action to remedy the problem. In some cases, they can immediately remove the animal from the situation and provide the care that is needed.

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.

Once again, it is useful to have a detailed written or a visual record of such events; and, when you make a complaint, you may be asked to give evidence of what you saw or heard.

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 and humane organizations 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 or Humane Society will not help

If the police or local Humane Society 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

If you witness an act of cruelty to, or neglect of an animal, or suspect it is taking place, contact your local Humane Society or SPCA right away.


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