Dear Porky & Buddy,
My neighbor has a dog that he keeps tied out behind his house. I can barely see into his backyard, but as far as I can tell the dog spends most of its time out there and there is never any food or water for it.
Is it OK if I just go over there and feed and water the dog myself when he is not home? The yard is not posted or anything.
Where to begin?
First of all, you have to understand that problems pertaining to pets are subject to the same rules of behavior as any other problem. (Both the legal rules of conduct and, as a practical matter, the rules of etiquette.)
So no, based on what you have told us so far, you cannot just sneak over there and feed the dog.
First, unless you have permission to be there, it is trespassing. Second, you don’t really know that the dog is not being fed and watered when your neighbor is home. Third, you don’t know whether it is even safe to approach this dog.
Have you tried just talking to your neighbor as a friendly gesture? Tell him you have noticed that his dog is outside on his own a lot and would it be OK if you brought him some water on hot days?
He might appreciate the gesture. He might think you are a busy body (not that we have anything against busy bodies, they can sometimes be the eyes and ears of official animal protections efforts).
In either case, you might find out more about the dog’s actual situation. Maybe he has a comfy house that you just can’t see. Maybe he was left with your neighbor by an obnoxious child and he really doesn’t want him, but doesn’t know what to do with him.
Maybe your neighbor will show you the area where the dog is kept and you will then have enough information about his lack of shelter to call the local dog control officer to tell him or her what you saw. Maybe what you witness will be bad enough to call 911 and report suspected animal cruelty.
Maybe everything will be fine and you can stop worrying.
That is a lot of maybes. Failure to provide adequate water and food to a companion animal can be misdemeanor level animal cruelty in New York.
But proving it requires more than just your limited snooping. Someone must be able to act as a witness to the fact that the animal was left for a period of time (the statute is not specific, but 24 hours is in the ball park) with no food or water whatsoever.
If the pet shows physical signs of dehydration or malnourishment, confirmed by a veterinarian, that is further evidence of criminal neglect. You are not that witness. If the dog and its area of confinement was actually fully visible to you, you might be that witness.
In this kind of situation, assuming your efforts at neighborliness fail, your local dog control officer might be a good resource.
Under most town dog control laws, he or she has authority to check on a dog’s license status and sometimes sheltering status and can get a good look at what you only suspect.
The bottom line is this — animal cruelty statues are tough to enforce because the victim cannot testify. It takes a concerted effort from concerned animal lovers acting within the bounds of the law, knowledgeable law enforcement officials who are willing to take on these challenges, and courts that take these kinds of crimes seriously.
We have that in Oswego County and we hope you, as one concerned animal lover, can tap into these resources to help this dog, if that is warranted. If it turns out that the dog is OK, maybe you will make a new friend who is also an animal lover!
The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County.