Animal Abuse/Cruelty: How to Recognize it and How to Report it in Georgia

Animal abuse/cruelty ranges from extreme cases, including dog fighting, to other forms of mistreatment that may seem cruel to you, but are not quite so obvious. Many incidents go unreported either because people are not sure about what constitutes animal abuse/cruelty or because they are not sure how to report it. This article is intended to help you identify animal abuse/cruelty, list the information you need to have when you make a report, and determine who you should call to report such behavior. Remember, animals can't speak for themselves. If we don't speak for them when we see mistreatment, no one will.

According to the Georgia Code, animal cruelty is a crime. It may be either a misdemeanor or a felony:

a. Cruelty to Animals (misdemeanor charge): A person commits the offense of cruelty to animals when he/she causes death or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering to any animal by an act, an omission, or willful neglect. O.C.G.A. §16-12-4

  • §Willful neglect means the intentional withholding of food and water required by an animal to prevent starvation or dehydration. O.C.G.A. §16-12-4
  • §Adequate food and water means food and water that is sufficient in an amount and appropriate for the particular type of animal to prevent starvation, dehydration, or a significant risk to the animal's health from a lack of food or water. O.C.G.A. §§4-11-2, 4-13-2
  • §Humane care of animals means, but is not limited to, the provision of adequate heat, ventilation, sanitary shelter, and wholesome and adequate food and water, consistent with the normal requirements and feeding habits of the animal's size, species, and breed. O.C.G.A. §§4-11-2, 4-13-2

b. Aggravated Cruelty to Animals (felony charge): A person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she knowingly and maliciously causes death or physical harm to an animal by rendering a part of such animal's body useless or by seriously disfiguring such animal...[paraphrased] except for conduct otherwise permitted under state or federal law. O.C.G.A. §16-12-4


In order for your report to be addressed quickly and effectively, the Department of Agriculture asks that you provide law enforcement/animal control officials with the following information:

Witness: The name, address, and telephone number of the person who witnessed the alleged incident. Such information may be kept confidential, depending on the particular agency; however, it is helpful for investigators to have a point of contact in the event of misdirection or mis-communication. Remember, the burden of proof falls upon the accuser.

Who: An accurate identity of the alleged perpetrator, if known, including name, address and telephone number, if possible and known associates or co-participants in the alleged criminal activity.

What and How: An accurate and exact description of the incident witnessed. The investigator must receive sufficient details and be able to verify substantial portions of the information as true before being used to establish probable cause. Document complete descriptions of the animals and associated conditions and include:

  • Pertinent conversations with the alleged perpetrator;
  • Eyewitness accounts to reconstruct the exact happenings of what and how the incident occurred (written notes and PHOTOGRAPHS are very valuable - a picture is worth a thousand words);
  • Written documents or reports that verify conditions (i.e., veterinary examination findings);
  • The date(s) and time(s) of the incident(s)

Where: The specific location where the incident was witnessed (physical address and city, community, or county), including directions.

People sometimes assume that the Georgia SPCA is responsible for investigating incidents of animal abuse or cruelty. This is not the case. We are a private non-profit organization whose primary missions are reducing animal overpopulation, finding loving homes for homeless animals in our community, and promoting responsible pet ownership. We are not a a government or law enforcement agency, and do not have the legal authority to investigate and intervene. 

Please contact Animal Control Services for the county in which you reside, or where you witnessed the abuse/neglect.  If you do not receive an adequate or timely response, call your local police or sheriff's department.  

Please refer to the following lists to report animal abuse/cruelty or humane care violations against different species:

For Companion Animals (e.g., dogs, cats, exotic birds, pet rabbits, pot-bellied pigs)

  • Report those persons holding an Animal Protection License issued by the Georgia Department of Agriculture (or those that should be licensed) to the Animal Protection Section at 1-800-282-5852, ext. 4914 or 404-656-4914, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. )  Link: Who must be licensed in Georgia?
  • Report all other persons to your local law enforcement agency and the animal control office, if one exists in the area.  Please report to law enforcement using the non-emergency number, unless the alleged perpetrator is actively involved in an act that threatens an animal's life. If you suspect that other crimes (e.g., illegal drug activity or gambling) are involved, be sure to report this as a part of the call.

For Equine (e.g., horses, mules, donkeys, zebras)
Report to the Georgia Department of Agriculture Equine Health Section at 1-800-282-5852, ext. 3713 or 404-656-3713, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. or to the local law enforcement agency and the animal control office, if one exists in the area.

For other Livestock (e.g., cattle, swine, goats, sheep, poultry, llamas)

  • Report to the Georgia Department of Agriculture Livestock Poultry Field Forces at 1-800-282-5852, ext. 3665 or 404-656-3665, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
  • Report to your local municipal or county police department or county sheriff's department.

For Captive Wildlife or Exotic Animals (e.g., whitetail deer, raptors, large cats)
Report to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division at 770-761-3044, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. They license individuals and companies engaged in the exhibition of wildlife and exotic animals (not normally domesticated) and enforce the Standards for Humane Handling and Care, O.C.G.A. §27-5-6. For more information, visit the Department of Natural Resources website.

For Circus or Zoo Animals (e.g., elephants, primates, big cats, circus dogs)
Report to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Care, Regional Office, Raleigh, N.C. at 919-716-5532, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. They license animal dealers (pet wholesalers, animal brokers, laboratory animal breeders and dealers, exotic and wild animal dealers), animal transporters (commercial airlines), animal exhibitors (circuses, zoos, promotional animal exhibits), and research facilities. They enforce the federal Animal Welfare Act and the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, Chapter 1, Subchapter A. For more information, visit the USDA website

You may wish to visit the website for the Georgia Department of Agriculture for more information on animal protection, cruelty to animals and requirements for licensing of animal care organizations.  You may also wish to consult the website for your local animal control facilitiy, if one exists in your county.  You can also find additional information about animal abuse on this site.