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5 Tips for Caring for Pets and Reporting Mistreatment in Your Community

Published January 20, 2012

Properly caring for animals is a big responsibility. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding of the full responsibilities involved can lead to mistreatment; which is not a matter to be taken lightly.

This week, the local media reported on an investigation involving the unfortunate deaths of several animals in a Maryland home. The National Aquarium team is saddened by the loss of animal life and disappointed that an ex-employee may be involved. Though the Aquarium has no recent professional association with the individual, we are determined to keep our online community informed of this sad situation in our Maryland area.

We believe that there exists a human responsibility to care for and protect all creatures, great and small. The National Aquarium is committed to excellence in animal care and actively protecting species both at our venues and around the world. Our Animal Rescue team has stepped forward to offer local authorities help to ensure the health and safety of any animals involved in this situation and in which it has the expertise to do so. That said, there are things that we can all do to help protect animals. Animal mistreatment is something that we can stop if we work together and do our part to care for animals properly.  

The following are some tips from our expert, Sue Hunter, director of Animal Programs, who has been working full time at the National Aquarium since 1987, on how to care for your pets and take action to help prevent animal mistreatment:

Tip 1: Only take in domestic animals.

Every animal has specific needs and keeping an animal is a big responsibility. If you have domestic animals such as dogs and cats, there are lots of veterinarians, trainers and stores that can help you with medical care, behavior and supplies/food for these animals. Domestic animals have been bred to interact with humans and we know a lot about them. Their care is not easier (they need all of the things mentioned above), but there are more resources for you to consult should you have questions or a problem. Exotic animals, on the other hand, have very specific needs, and there is not as big a support system to help you care for them. For example, parrots need constant attention, special food and warmth; reptiles need a specific temperature, humidity and food to thrive. In addition, some exotic animals are illegal to have. Check state and local ordinances to make sure that a pet is legal to own before taking it in.

Tip 2: Don’t take in too many pets.

Even well-meaning individuals can be quickly overwhelmed by taking in too many animals. Remember, each animal needs to be cleaned, fed, exercised, enriched and given attention every single day. By having a lot of animals, each individual animal inevitably gets less care as there are only so many hours in a day. This can leave animals confined in cages too long, not cleaned, without enough food or water or lonely and sad. Make sure that you have the time to provide all seven of the needs that animals have daily: clean quarters, food, water, attention, enrichment, exercise and proper housing (including temperature).

Tip 3: Make regular trips to a veterinarian.

Animals need to be seen by a veterinarian every year for a checkup and to receive necessary vaccinations. Also, if an animal displays lethargy, low appetite, low or high water intake, change in behavior or physical changes, this could be a sign of illness and requires an expert licensed veterinarian to diagnose the problem and provide treatment. If your animals show any of these signs, please get them to a veterinarian right away.

Tip 4: Educate yourself with animal cruelty information and keep an eye out for the mistreatment of animals in your community.

There are many signs to look for to identify animal abuse. Common physical signs of an animal that has been mistreated are open wounds, multiple healed wounds, emaciation, tick or flea infestation, extreme matted fur, eye or nose discharge, lethargy, confusion, drowsiness or bumpy, scaly skin rashes. Also look at the animal’s environment – are they kept outside in inclement weather with no shelter? Are they tied up alone outside without adequate food or water? Are they housed in kennels that are too small? Watching a person’s behavior around an animal is also important – does the person physically strike the animal or treat them very rough? Click here to see more tips on how to recognize cruelty.

People who keep large numbers of animals in their house or property in squalid conditions are commonly referred to as “collectors” or “hoarders.” Although many have good intentions, such as providing shelter to unwanted dogs and cats, often the inability to care for so many animals leads to abuse in the form of neglect. Authorities face the often-difficult task of confronting persons in complete denial of the conditions in which they and the animals live. As a further difficulty, authorities must conduct extensive follow-up work because each neglected animal must be examined, cared for and put up for adoption or, in some cases, put down. Click here to learn more about animal hoarding.

As with any criminal prosecution, animal cruelty must be reported and investigated with diligence and accuracy to ensure a conviction and help prevent future acts of cruelty by the offender or others. In most states, officers of the local Humane Society (humane officers) handle the investigation and gathering of information when a cruelty report occurs. Then an attorney employed by the state decides whether to prosecute the offender.

In Maryland, the Animal Services division of the local police department typically executes the investigation, citation and arrest of animal abusers. In addition, the Maryland statute deputizes officers of the Humane Society to perform arrests if they witness a misdemeanor act of animal cruelty, as per Section 10-609 of the Maryland Code. In Baltimore, the Maryland Code deputizes the Division of Animal Health of the Baltimore County Health Department instead of Humane Society officers.

Tip 5: Report potential animal cruelty to authorities.

Anyone can report animal cruelty. If you wish to report an act of animal cruelty, aid in the enforcement of anti-cruelty laws or simply have further questions about animal cruelty, do not hesitate to contact local law enforcement or your local office of the Humane Society, Animal Services or Animal Control. In an emergency, dial 911.

If you witness animal cruelty, call 911 immediately. Also report any cruelty or neglect to Animal Control at 311. Document what you have witnessed; a camera phone can help. If you suspect neglect, consider offering to help find a new home for the animal. If you are fearful of approaching the family, call the police or Animal Control. Baltimore-area resources, including animal control agencies, are listed below. Contact social services if you are concerned about other family members. In summary: Do something. There is a link between animal abuse and human abuse. Violence hurts everyone.

Here’s who to contact for more help on caring for your animals or reporting mistreatment:
Each county in Maryland has an animal control facility or local police. In an emergency, call 911. To report suspected abuse, call 311. Below are links to a few animal shelters and resources that can also help you:

To report abuse, individuals can call Baltimore County Animal Control at 410-887-5961.

Further resources:

Central Maryland Animal Shelters:

  • Anne Arundel County Animal Control 410-222-8900 or fax 410-222-8915
  • Anne Arundel County SPCA 410-268-4388 or fax 410-268-8027
  • Baltimore City Animal Control 410-396-4694 or fax 410-396-7332
  • Baltimore County Animal Control 410-887-5961 or fax 410-817-4257
  • Baltimore County Humane Society 410-833-8848 or fax 410-833-9251
  • Carroll County Humane Society 410-848-4810 or fax 410-875-9736
  • Humane Society of Harford County 410-836-1090 or fax 410-877-3788
  • Howard County Animal Control 410-313-2780 or fax 410-313-2720
  • Howard County Animal Welfare 410-465-4350 or fax 410-480-4316

“The reason I work here and love the aquarium so much," Sue added, "is due to the exemplary care that the animals receive. Animals come first here at the Aquarium. In fact, one of our values is excellence in animal care. Excellence means not only providing top-quality food, water and shelter, but also attending to their every need. We have a talented animal health staff with onsite veterinarians and technicians that ensure the health of the animals through regular physicals, as well as top-notch medical diagnosis and treatment. Animals also need lots of attention and their behavioral needs met, and for this, we have an extensive Biological Programs Department. Staff ensures that the animals have the ability to display natural behaviors, have lots of room to exercise in naturalistic habitats and are enriched in some way every single day. In my life at home, I strive to bring the Aquarium values to animals I care for by providing them with the best food, exercise, veterinary care, enrichment, training and attention every day! I hope that sharing these tips and values will inspire members of our community, too.”

We hope that this incident will serve as a reminder to our friends and neighbors to keep an eye out for mistreatment of animals and serve as advocates for animals whenever possible! We invite you to please post a comment below if you have any questions regarding animal care at home or here at the National Aquarium.

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