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Animal Welfare & Advocacy

Animals at Risk   •   How to Get Help for an Animal    •   Familiarize Yourself with the Law    •   Who Enforces the Law?     •     Before Building Your Case    •   Play It Smart    •   Local Resources    •   Animal Welfare/Advocacy Links

Animals at Risk

Photo: Wink the black cat who lost an eye

The State of Iowa enacted an anti-cruelty law in 1851, fifteen years before Henry Bergh secured legislative consent for the incorporation of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866.

Despite laws to prevent cruelty to animals, Bergh and the ASPCA found it difficult to get convictions. That has not changed.

Cruelty to animals is now a criminal offense throughout the United States. In a growing minority of states, animal cruelty carries a penalty at the felony level. The majority of states, however, consider animal cruelty as a misdemeanor offense.

Currently in Iowa (this is the “nutshell” version), cruelty to dogs or cats carries a felony penalty only for the second offense.

How to Get Help for an Animal

It’s very frustrating to know that an animal is in trouble and not be able to get anyone to do anything about it. To make things happen for animals, sometimes you have to spell things out to the humans in charge more carefully than you would think. Doing your homework carefully (e.g., gathering, documenting, and organizing evidence—see below) enhances the probability that you will be taken seriously.

Graphic Animation:  Report abuse.

Familiarize Yourself with the Law

Photo: filthy dog kennels at a Dewitt puppy mill raid

Laws are simply one of the tools we can use in our efforts on behalf of animals. Try not be intimidated by the formidable writing style and special language peculiar to the law.

Local—refer to city ordinances (laws enacted by city councils) and county ordinances (laws enacted by county boards).

State—refer to Iowa’s State Constitution, state law (laws passed by the state legislature), and state case law (decisions rendered by the state court). The State Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship delegates most of its responsibility/authority to the local level.

Federal—look at the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes (laws passed by Congress), and federal case law (decisions rendered by federal courts).

Who Enforces the Law?

Anti-cruelty laws can be enforced by local or state police officers or sheriff’s deputies.

Any citizen who witnesses cruelty can call the appropriate authorities (based on where, geographically, the alleged cruelty happened) to stop it.

Or after the event, can swear out a warrant for criminal prosecution. Unfortunately for the animals, there is no central place to call for help.

Start with the appropriate law enforcement agency (see below) and work from there.

Grafix: Hey do I evere hit you? says the cat to the man
Grafix: Map (Google) of Johnson County, Iowa

Map data © 2018 Google

The appropriate agency varies with the combinations of:

Geographic locationof the problem (e.g., within city limits vs county);

•  If the problem is within the city limits of Iowa City or Coralville, call the Iowa City Animal Care & Adoption Center; or the respective police department.

•  If the problem is within another city’s limits, call the respective police department.

City ordinances will apply, but you can fall back on State code too. The investigating officer will decide whether to file using city ordinances or state code. This decision is often made on the basis of seriousness and intent. State code penalties are more stringent and are used in cases where individuals go out of their way to break the law, or where the more heinous crime has been committed.

•  If the situation occurred outside city limits, call the county’s Sheriff’s Department. State code applies.

Urgencyof the problem (e.g., “life or death emergency” vs “nuisance barking”)

Timeof day

Building Your Case

Photo: Giani the cat with injured eyes

The following information about investigating animal cruelty is taken (with permission) from The Handbook of Animal-related Laws in Iowa no longer published by the Iowa Federation of Humane Societies (IFHS).

Unfortunately, there are relatively few legal restraints concerning the treatment of non-human animals. Pay attention to your intuition. If you’ve seen animals being treated in a way that troubles you, then chances are that the animals in question are being exploited or abused.

Study all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations that cover the nature of animal exploitation that you plan to investigate. Before you consider any action, evaluate the possible consequences for you, the animal/s, and the alleged abuser.

•  What or who is your focus?

•  What is the nature of the exploitation that you want to investigate?

•  How accessible to you is the person, facility, operation, property, or program in question?

•   What resources do you possess and how do they match up with those of your focus?

What Is Your Goal?

Your desired outcome might include one or more of the following:

•  Criminal prosecution for cruelty

•  Civil litigation

•  Termination of government funding

•  Enhanced regulatory enforcement

•  Voluntary compliance or similar action by the target

•  Exposure of conditions and/or issues to public scrutiny or

•  Information gathering for legislative efforts and lobbying.

The stakes can be high so expect organized and professional opposition from business or government; well-funded defense and media efforts; a high caliber of legal representation; and sheer governmental inertia.

Photo: Susan's room from which her cats were removed

Develop a Strategy

Without careful consideration of how best to achieve your goal, your efforts will likely go to waste.

Photo: officers holding a dog as evidence in a Dewitt puppy mill raid

Merely calling the press or the prosecutor or confronting others with righteous indignation will not change the situation and may damage future efforts.

Authorities will not sympathize with you unless you have specific facts and complaints which are recognized as violations of state or federal law, regulations, or of operating procedures of the facility in question.

Your most important and influential aids will be your documentation and your camera. Record when, where, why, what, and how.

•  What, exactly occurred and to which animals?

•  How did the problem occur (e.g., is this normal procedure, was a new employee involved, etc.).

•  When, exactly did the alleged animal abuse take place?

•  Where, exactly did the problem occur?

•  Why (in your opinion) did it occur, and why did it occur according to others?

Document Facts Carefully

Careful documentation of events as they occur will limit variations in your interpretation of what happened and greatly strengthen your position.

Facts must be documented and compared to the law or the regulations applicable to the situation in question.


Photo: Bruno the dog being photographed as evidence in a Johnson Couny cruelty case
Photo:  Shepherd-mix dog.

Gather Evidence

The test for admissibility as evidence is: does the item/evidence accurately portray what it purports to represent at the time it was taken?

•  Photographic evidence must accurately portray what it purports to represent at the time the photograph was taken. Information relating to the subject matter of the photograph, specifically when and where it was taken should be recorded and reflected in the photograph.

For example, a photograph of an animal in a cage should include a sign that indicates precisely which animal this is, where the animal is, and the date and time the photograph was taken.

•  Line up experts to assist in the investigation and follow-up activities.

•  Any forms used to record someone’s words should include the date, time, place, and persons present.

•  Any forms used to record someone’s words should include the date, time, place, and persons present.

•  Written evidence should be signed by the interviewer and interviewee. Corrections, deletions or additions should be initialed by both the interviewer and interviewee.

•  Each document should have attached to it the information relating to specifically where and when it was seized, and by whom. This is really important!

•  Public documents need to be certified as true and accurate copies and must meet other requirements before they are admissible in court.

•  The face of private documents must not be altered, modified or changed in any way. Photocopying a document is not altering it.

Grafix: Doin't Declaw. Make it a law.

Play It Smart

Photo: Johnson County Deputy

Work Within the Law!

If you violate the law, regardless of your knowledge or intentions, you will not be able to justify your actions by comparing them to the wrongs being committed against animals.

With few exceptions, our legal system does not recognize a difference between taking an animal from its owner (even for the animal’s benefit) and taking a stereo from its owner. If you remove an animal from the possession of the owner without permission, you are committing the criminal act of larceny.

Although the JCHS recognizes the injustice of treating other animals as property, this organization does not advocate removing animals as a legal alternative for dealing with animal abuse.

Feel Like You Hit the Wall?

If the appropriate authorities refuse to respondto a cruelty or neglect complaint (e.g., “Oh, it’s just a cat...,” or “I don't know anything about animals...”) call your local (city/county) prosecutor’s office to report the lack of action by the appropriate authorities.

If you still are not satisfiedapproach your mayor or head of the city council or chair of your county board of supervisors. Or if you’re a resident of the congressional district in which the cruelty occurred, contact your representative at the state level to convince him/her that future acts of cruelty should be investigated.

Get creative(e.g., if filth is also a problem, you may be able to get the county health department involved on the basis of detriment to human health). Sometimes more than one ordinance covers or refers to a particular problem, so use them all. Call your department of human services and ask them to do a welfare check at a specific address.

The power of the pressto report the deliberate failure of local authorities to fulfill their duties and its power to educate the public about the needs and legal rights of animals should not be overlooked. If no law exists in your jurisdiction to cover the situation in question, contact with the media, legislature, or other sources may prove productive.

If you have any questions as to the appropriateness of any of your actions, consult an attorney for guidance.

Local Resources

Iowa City Animal Care & Adoption Center  •  356-5295. Jurisdiction is limited to within the city limits of Coralville and Iowa City. Hours are weekdays—10:30am to 5:30pm and Saturdays—10am to 3pm. After-hour calls are transferred to the Iowa City Police Department, which can arrange for strays to be picked up and deposited at the shelter.

Coralville Police Department  •  354-1100. Jurisdiction is limited to within city limits of Coralville. They can pick up strays and deposit them at the shelter 24 hours a day.

Iowa City Police Department  •  356-5275. Jurisdiction is limited to within city limits of Iowa City. They can pick up strays and deposit them at the shelter 24 hours a day.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Department  •  356-6020. Jurisdiction is limited to areas outside city limits 24 hours a day.

Johnson County Public Health  •  356-6040

Johnson County Social Services  •  356-6050

Photo: Bob the kitten after his leg amputation
Grafix: Report animal abuse

The University of Iowa Pre-Veterinary Club (a University-sanctioned academic student group), Center for Student Leadership

•  provides exposure to veterinary medicine in current education, research, and veterinary practice:

•  creates contacts, networks, and support between pre-veterinary students at the University of Iowa as well as those at other schools

•  creates opportunities for extra-curricular and organizational experience activities in the field of veterinary medicine

•  gives back to the community through various volunteer and service projects

Iowa Federation of Humane Societies (IFHS)  •  515-262-9503. This is the statewide umbrella group for local humane societies, shelters, pounds. Tom Colvin is the president.

The University of Iowa American College of Veterinary Pharmacists (ACVP) (a University-sanctioned graduate & professional student group), Center for Student Leadership.

•  provides opportunities for pharmacy students to explore a career path in veterinary pharmacy:

•  demonstrates the need for more veterinary pharmacists

•  the chapter partners with local animal shelters and animal hospitals to support programs related to veterinary cancer, diabetes, poison control, and animal safety

Photo: Amelia the cat in a cardboard box

The University of Iowa Promoting Animal Welfare Society (PAWS a University-sanctioned service student group), Center for Student Involvement.

Dedicated to bettering the lives of animals in need, raising animal awareness in the community, volunteering for animal-related causes, and coordinating fundraisers for animals and organizations.

Photo:Caleb, Cyrus, Titus, and Cheddar the cats

The University of Iowa Vegan Society Uiowa (Veg UI a University-sanctioned special-Interest student group), Center for Student Involvement. Join us no matter what your diet, lifestyle, or background is!

TIPS: Turn In Poachers  •  800-532-2020

Want to work on better laws for animals?

Animal Welfare/Advocacy Links

Photo: Lucy the dog

American Humane Association (AHA)—founded in 1877, this is the nation’s only national organization dedicated to child and animal protection.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)—one of the nation’s first organizations dedicated to animals and children as victims of abuse.

Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)—the country’s leading animal rights law organization. Over the past 20 years, they’ve won precedent-setting victories for animals on every front; in research laboratories, on farms, in the wild, and for companion animals.

Doris Day Animal League (DDAL)—a national, citizens lobbying organization formed to focus attention on issues involving the humane treatment of animals

Farm Sanctuary—in 1986, they established the first shelter in the USA for victims of “food animal”production. Their New York and California farm shelters rescue, rehabilitate, and provide lifelong care for hundreds of animals rescued from factory farms, stockyards, and slaughterhouses

Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—founded in 1954, HSUS envisions a world in which people satisfy the physical and emotional needs of domestic animals; protect wild animals and their environments; and change their relationships with other animals, evolving from exploitation and harm to respect and compassion.

Last Chance for Animals (LCA)—in the 1980s and 1990s, LCA has worked on virtually every animal rights issue, including farming, fur and animals in entertainment. Their primary focuses are vivisection, pet theft, fur, and circuses.

Grafix: Say no to fur. It doesn't belong to you.
Grapfix: cover of The Animals Voice Magazine

Society & Animals Forum (formerly Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PSYETA)—works with social scientists, mental health providers and other animal protection organizations to reduce the suffering and exploitation of both human and nonhuman animals.

The Animals Voice—an award-winning, independent, networking source of timely media coverage and resources for animals and their defenders. Features the latest animal rights news, multimedia, calendar, victories, thought-provoking and inspirational editorials, graphic and compelling photography, and in-depth investigative reports.

World Animal Net (WAN)—is the world’s largest network of animal protection societies with consultative status at the UN and with over 2,500 affiliates in more than 100 countries working to improve the status and welfare of animals.

World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)—created in 1981 through the merger of the World Federation for the Protection of Animals, founded in 1953, and the International Society for the Protection of Animals, founded in 1959, WSPA is the world’s largest network of animal protection specialists.

Last update: 02/26/19


Contact Us at

JCHS  •  P.O. BOX 2775  •  IOWA CITY, IA  52244-2775

NOTE that we are a small group of volunteers, most of whom work during the day. We will get back to you as soon as we can.



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