Dog Abuse: What Does One Do?

We have a view from our building that looks into several backyards of houses lining the street parallel to our own. Toby Joe and I have spent many hours staring out over the city. It’s really a great view. I am lucky. I know this. We have a view overlooking the choppy rooftops that make up Northern Brooklyn, the bridge and finally Lower Manhattan. I love watching the world outside my window.


Several months ago, I noticed an cat living in one of those backyards. The cat wears a collar, so I know it’s a member of a family. I have watched this cat and I admit that I’ve felt a little sorry for it at times whenever it’s too cold or too hot, during snow or rain storms. I have voiced my empathy for this cat to Toby Joe who was quick to point out how happy and healthy he or she appears to be.

There’s a dog living there too. Although, I don’t see the dog nearly as often as the cat. I guess the dog is kept inside a lot. But sometimes he or she is let out for a bit.

One day I saw the man of the house hold the door open and call the dog to come back inside. It was at that moment, during that interaction, that I began to really question the situation.

Before I go on, I have to admit that I know very little about dogs, dog training, dog owners, and basically all things dog. There have been many times where I have seen an interaction take place between a human and a dog and that interaction seems abusive to me only to find out that the person is actually training the dog. I have been told that dog training can be a little aggressive. So I usually just try and look the other way.

But this dog? This dog cowered as it squeezed between the man and the door jam. It looked up at the man—tail between its legs, head down, then up again, then down again—as the man made stern gestures, seemingly aggressive ones. And the interaction bugged me. 

But he did not touch the dog.

Still, I told Toby Joe about what I had seen and he suggested that some dogs are just like that sometimes. They like being told what to do sometimes and that it’s probably nothing. And we both wanted to believe that.

Then some time later I saw man of the house let the cat do figure eights around his legs and he bent down and patted the cat and then fed it some food and was off inside the house again. I figured: an abusive person would have probably kicked the cat away, right? 

So, I finally stopped thinking terrible things about its life, the dog’s too. 

But then yesterday something happened that sent me reeling. 

The dog was out back again. This time a woman wearing a bathrobe stood in the doorway. She called the dog back into the house. The dog cowered. As the dog walked in through the doorway, she lifted her leg high and kicked it as one might kick open a locked door. This wasn’t something that seemed like a dominance kick or nudge (if there is such a thing in dog land?). This had intent. And even though she was barefoot, my mind raced with other scenarios.

I wrote on Twitter asking people what I should do and many people wrote telling me about the New York ASPCA. I hate getting too involved in the lives of those around me, but when an animal or child is potentially being harmed, I simply can’t bite my tongue. I know that this post may open me up to some backlash, suggesting that I should mind my own business as we New Yorkers often do, but this time I found it impossible not to intervene.

When Toby Joe began (justifiably) questioning what I had seen especially considering I had sought to take action, I started to question my initial reaction to the whole situation. (I’d make either an excellent juror or a terrible one, depending on which side you’re on.) I can’t help but wonder: am I making it out to be worse than it really is? Am I overreacting? What if I’m wrong? I could be wrong.

To be honest, I kind of hope that I am.


  1. I think you absolutely did the right thing. It’s true that dogs need firm treatment, but it does not resort to kicking. Also, if this is what you saw, it probably goes on a lot, since this was not some kind of unusual situation with the dog misbehaving. If this is what they do usually, imagine what they do when the dog chews up a shoe. I hope they don’t have kids.


  2. as much as i am not a proponent of it, i’ve seen a light side kick (more of a tap really) to distract a dog that’s fixated on something. at no point is it a wind up.

    it’s generally a sign of abuse if the dog keeps its head down as people approach. also, it’s a pretty tell tale sign if the dog is terrified to let you touch its feet. not sure why, but we’ve heard the schpiel. we have two rescues that were abused and they are both TERRIFIED if people walk up to them. it’s been a long road for the past 6 months but they’re getting to the point that they’re starting to enjoy the company of others and snuggling up. it’s seriously a huge treat for them to even walk near us. one’s leaps and bounds better than the other, but i find myself wondering what people could have done to such sweet animals.

    it’s times like these that i get upset that people can’t get the same kind of treatment that they dole out to their pets. i cannot fathom how anyone could abuse an animal. i cannot even see how someone could kick a dog because it didn’t come in at the exact second they wanted it to. ugh.


  3. You did what any person with a heart would do, sweetie. I am certain your instincts are right about this, and though you may not have a lot of experience with dogs, you have been around animals enough to recognize certain signs.

    I hope that something good comes of this. We both know all too well that there are not enough good homes out there for all of the animals in the world who need them, but that poor dog deserves better than the situation it is in. Thank you for caring, and acting. xo


  4. I hope I overreacted. I hope the dog is happy. I hope I’m just making it to be worse than it is. But I also hope that someone makes sure of all of that.


  5. Let me echo the above comment. Seriously, this is tough, but you did what needed to be done. Even if it turns out to be nothing it is important that you followed your instincts! It is a tough call to make, but necessary, in my mind.

    You did the right thing. If it is nothing, then that is great. But if something is going on, then you could be helping an animal.

    I don’t want to ramble, but a few years ago a neighbor called an animal organisation (the RSPCA) on a cat belonging to my husbands’ family. She was 18 years old and one of the neighbors thought she shouldn’t be allowed outside. I happened to be at my father-in-law’s when they came by and they immediately knew that nothing was wrong and that she was just a very old cat who wanted to spend her remaining days wandering around eating twigs. Anyway, what I am saying is that in my experience, having dealt with such organisations when there isn’t an issue is not horrible. They were doing their job and they did it well. Now, if something is going on, obviously the situation is different, but if they are doing no wrong, then it will just be a small inconvenience.


  6. If the ASPCA isn’t able to send someone I know that one of the animal law enforcement officers from that Animal Planet show (sorry, don’t know what it’s called, K9 Cops, maybe?) works in Brooklyn and she’s reported to be very good. I assume she works for the city, though, and the danger there is that the dog will be sent to the city shelter (“pound”) which is a kill shelter so I think you made the right call starting with the ASPCA.


  7. I too hope that you were wrong but I know that is not possible. You never kick a dog or any animal for that matter. Like another commenter has already said, if that is what they did over nothing what do they do over something major? I shudder to think.

    You are a great person with a huge heart for the animals of the world. You did the right thing.


  8. Kizz: If worse came to worse, we might considering taking the dog. (I may get faced with divorce papers however. heheh) I have no idea. I would hate to see it get sent to a shelter. I will do everything in my power to see to it that it’s not harmed.


  9. i dunno man. kids and dogs are awesome together. the thing is, he’s gonna need a lot of rehab if he was abused. gotta consider that.


  10. As a dog owner, incidents like this really get under my skin. The ONLY time I would ever condone kicking a dog is if it was attacking my face. Or, you know, someone else’s face.

    There is just simply no other reason to ever do it. Animals aren’t for kicking. If you don’t want to treat your dog well, then hey, idea! DON’T GET A DOG.

    (You did the right thing. And if the dog really is OK, then great! But that’s why those checks and balances are in place. So that someone can check, and verify.)


  11. I think you absolutely did the right thing. You told the right authorities about it and they can look into it. The dog’s cowering body language says that he/she has been regularly abused. Unlike a cat who will often run away if things get rough (that’s where 2 of my cats came from), dogs usually remain faithful to their family even if it means they’re seriously mistreated. It’s generous of you to think of adopting this dog, but if you have no previous experience with dogs, i wouldn’t recommend it…this dog is going to need a lot of special care to get over being afraid and return to being a “normal” dog.


  12. In my opinion you did the right thing. Better to be safe than sorry. The dog doesn’t have a voice to file a complaint, and you did that for him or her. There may be nothing wrong, but you did your part. And if you want to follow up on the investigation all the better.


  13. You definitely did the right thing reporting them. But you may not have done a wise thing in admitting to that on the Internet. People who are violent toward animals are violent, nasty evil people and you need to be a little careful. If there’s a way to delete the part where you identify yourself as the person who called the authorities, I would. Also, don’t be surprised if the ASPCA doesn’t exactly come running. They get a gazillion calls and they don’t always respond. You may have to be persistent. Maybe take pictures–discreetly and carefully.

    BTW, I’d echo the people who caution you about taking the dog in. It could be great, but it’s a huge risk and a long rehab. Sometimes these dogs seem very meek but as they get over being paralyzed by fear, they sometimes go through a phase where they act out. If you were an adults-only household without cats, it would be different.


  14. Better safe than sorry. How much regret would you feel if you hadn’t called? You have a very good heart for being concerned about this and I don’t think you should worry about someone calling you a busybody.


  15. this post made me sick to my stomach. you did the RIGHT THING. please, please don’t second guess yourself. if you do second guess yourself (and if you are hopefully wrong in this case), you may not report suspected abuse in the future. you did the right thing. please do let us know the outcome. argh!


  16. 2+2=4 usually! You see a dog cowering and afraid and you see a kick like that – it just adds up to abuse. And if they investigate and it turns out that you were wrong – no big deal. I agree with the other commenters that it’s better to be safe and protective of that dog than to care what other people think. I understand your reluctance though. Kudos to you for being brave and honourable! (I’m Canadian – that’s how we spell honourable!) haha


  17. I am going back and forth on whether I should take this down. For starters, I did think about the possibility (although slim) that they might find me and retaliate somehow. And then I wondered if I’d care. Judging by the looks of these people, I would maybe get some nasty looks or maybe a grumble or two. They don’t seem like the type to shoot me or beat me up. I know, famous last words.

    Second of all, I did not write this post looking for a pat on the back or approval from anyone online or off. Toby Joe asked what my point was (not being rude, just asking what the point was). He pointed out that writing about it won’t stop abuse, so really why not phone it in, do your job and then be done with it?

    He has a most excellent point. And I need to explain why I did this. To you and myself.

    I wrote this because it’s bugging me to the point of being all I’ve been able to think about. And sometimes it helps to write it down. I also kind of wanted to hear dog people suggest (which many of you have) that cowering is not normal and that my allegations and assumptions weren’t wrong. I wrote this because I wanted to feel better and now that I know that’s not going to be possible, I’m now asking what my point is all over again.

    I feel very awkward with this post now and am very unsure of what to do with it. If I edit out the bit about calling it in, every single last comment stops making sense.

    I should think before I write sometimes.


  18. never question yourself; my father told me, ‘trust your guts; the few times they are wrong are miniscule in comparison to the times they’re right’.

    the people can fend for themelves if they are indeed innocent. the animals, however, need the voice you provided for them. all animals do.

    I wish more people did what you did. I’ve had abused and neglected cats, and I wish someone would have made a phone call before they were burned and shot.


  19. Kim aka Finiky June 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    You did the right thing. Let the ASPCA sort it out. IMO it is never ok to kick an animal. I know some dogs are more shy but hearing how it cowered really bothers me. It shows fear for the humans. If it’s a young(ish) dog it might be it needs training and the humans don’t know how to deal with it. So the ASPCA can sort it out and take the proper action.

    There have been many times we hear about an animal suffering after the fact or too late to help it. Maybe, you have prevented the animal from further suffering if that is the case.

    I wish more people would step up more often.



  20. That is the most disgusting thing I have read today. I do NOT think you are over reacting. I really can’t imagine a time that it is ever appropriate to kick an animal (bear attack in the woods perhaps?), particularly your own pet. I hope the ASPCA takes their animals away and they get at minimum a fine. You did the right thing. I wish more people would use their conscience and put it into action when they witness unacceptable incidents.


  21. We had a dog when I was 11 or 12 or so that we’d picked up as a stray. The dog had clearly been abused. Indications of this were some of the behaviors you describe: cowering when humans (even kids) approached, tail between legs, ducked head, walking around humans rather than toward. The dog was very sweet, but was, sad to say, permafucked by its early history. We were a very dog-experienced, dog-friendly family (had another one at the time that had come from a completely different background and was fine), but we were never able to get this one to normal. If you ever decide to take such an animal in, be aware that it’s lots of work. The emotional wreckage is severe and it manifests in practical things like housebreaking (not a day went by without oceans of shit to clean up — it became a daily ritual), relations with humans (they are emotionally labile and often operate on a hair trigger, and are more apt to respond and proffer along dominance/submission lines), so on. Think PTSD, really.

    Dogs *are* different from cats. Dominance and submission *are* built into their evolutionary character. They *do* respect clarity and consistency of authority (so do horses and many other pack animals, for that matter). (They also respond vividly to, and have a vast capacity for, affection and kindness, BTW.) But what you describe is outwide what I have experienced as the behavioral norms.


  22. Please, please do not just let this slide. There is an animal being abused and you are in a position to help it. Also remember that people who are willing to hurt animals are much more willing to hurt a child. No harm can come of you stepping in to help this poor dog.


  23. You did the right thing and I think less people do get involved, which is sad. I couldn’t just sit back knowing any animal (or kid) was being abused and I knew of it. Thank you for getting involved and trying to help.

    I will agree that some dogs are so abused that they can not be rehabilitated to ever be comfortable enough to trust humans. While others turn the corner quite quickly with positive human interactions. You won’t know until he gets to see a professional dog trainer or someone who specializes in animal behavior.

    All dogs, and sometimes even moreso, humans need training. This dog may thrive in a family environment or with a single person looking for a companion or he may not be rehabitable and need to be euthanized. While sad, it is a far better experience than living his years out with those assholes. I hope that he gets a second chance.

    Some rescues will request a police escort to seize a dog, but it may need to more visual signs of abuse as cowering may not necessarily signify abuse for some people. Can you ask your cat rescue friends to maybe suggest a local independant rescue that may have an opening for this dog. Do you know what breed of dog he is, maybe there is a local breed specific rescue that would be compelled to help.

    Please keep us updated…and thank you again.


  24. You did the right thing, absolutely. Report those bastards.


  25. for the past one month, i noticed my neighbor’s dogs were abuse. They were left outside in chained for weeks. poor dogs barked none stop. I called 911 to report the incident but they did not do anything. I called the animal shelter in my district. they request that i must submit my name and address. They also request that i must also appear in court if requested. my neighbor is very mean and I am afraid that they might harm my family. what do you think i should do?


  26. Harry: I will likely post your comment on my main blog to get ideas for you. I am so sorry you’re in this position but love that you have heart enough to care.


  27. well 2day i was walking home with my mom n bro then we see dis 1 guy yelling and just crazy then we see him kick something then we walk next to his house n we see he has 2 dogs then 1 dog goes running so then we thought he was just kicking the fence because u no how dogs run wen they get scared bt then he follows the dog then kicks the dog!!! i wanted to punch him really BAD! i felt bad for the dog and it really cute i just wanna bring it home! i hope something comes back and haunts him! 4real


  28. @ Harry:

    Are you in NYC? Have you thought of contacting the people at Rescue Ink?

    They are bikers, big guys, who investigate animal abuse — you might be able to get them involved and keep your family from being threatened? Mihow, I can’t believe I didn’t think to post this when you originally posted this post, I get the worst short-term memory loss and ADD when I am online.


  29. hi Lillet
    thank you for your replied. I live in Washington State. I’m not sure if there is such organization here?


  30. It sounds to me that the man does not really abuse the dog he just gets frustrated when the dog comes in. It is possible that the woman is abusing the animal behind the mans back. When he lets the dog in, he just yells a lot because he doesn’t understand why the dog is cowering. The dog is cowering because it is conditioned to cower by the woman. the woman when she is alone without the man is responsible for the dog and she resents this and there for abuses the dog. If I were you I would call the ASPCA and tell them that you have witnessed the woman abuse the animal but you have never witnessed the man. They will do what is necessary for the safety of the animals. Worst case scenario you are right and you end up saving a life, best case scenario you are wrong and you sent individuals to investigate the situation.


  31. Go with your gut feeling. That dog is being abused. Only a dog that would cower down all the time is.


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