"My boyfriend's neighbor has two dogs in his yard who don't look like they're treated well... they look underfed and he never walks them. They're just tied to trees and have little wood boxes to sleep in. I'm not sure if this is animal abuse or what to do about it."

Neglect of a dog is a distressing thing to witness. What can you do about it?

FIRST-- don't skip this step-- have a conversation with the people involved.

Most likely, the owner is maintaining his dogs at the standard of care he has been taught is acceptable, based on what his family or friends have modeled. Culturally, most parts of the world don't treat animals nearly as kindly as mainstream California. We are leaders in legislating safe and health-conscious animal care practices.

When you get into a conversation with most "neglectful" dog owners, you'll often find that they would be genuinely shocked that anyone believes they could be harming their dog.

You don't want the state or someone else to end up caring for these dogs. You want this person to care for these and future dogs, better.

Swap some dog stories, gather some history, then point out some concerns. Since 2007 it has been illegal in CA to tether a dog. Not many people know this and it's still a common thing to see. If the dogs are on a sliding "run" kind of chain it's OK, but they can't be tied to one anchor point like a tree.

Do you think the dogs are underfed? Make sure you know what you're seeing here. Except for very fluffy dogs, a good lean physique will have at least the last rib visible. Culturally, a healthy-weight is something America has a blind-spot for, both for people and dogs!

Underweight dogs have visible (or in fluffy dogs, feel-able) hip bones and spine, and all of the ribs will be pronounced. Offer to buy a bag of dog food for them next time you're in Walmart. This is usually hits deeper than "Your dog looks starved, you need to feed it more". Without accusing or criticism, explain why a healthy weight is important and offer some helpful rules of thumb that you've learned for maintaining it.

Letting a dog become grossly obese is also neglectful-- obesity is a detrimental and preventable medical condition that causes much suffering. Usually the damage is perpetrated with much love and ignorance. Gently point out the specific, well-documented risk of cardiovascular disease, joint problems, arthritis, diabetes, etc that obesity causes.

Sometimes you see dogs with wounds or obvious disease, where the owner cannot afford or doesn't value the animal enough to take it in for treatment. Don't leap to conclusions about whether the root of the problem is money, malice, indifference, or ignorance. If the situation warrants, counsel the owner voluntarily surrender the animal for treatment or involve Animal Control.

Often, people find lost dogs and assume solely from the animal's demeanor or condition that it comes from an abusive home. They make very little effort to find the owner. This is a huge and arrogant assumption. Virtually every shy-dog owner tells me they believe their dog was abused before they got it. It's a popular narrative.

From a community standpoint, it's often better to look a little deeper into situations and offer your help before involving the law. Nobody likes that neighbor who calls the cops over leafblower noise but wouldn't walk across the street to deliver a stray piece of mail. Also, responsible citizens avoid burdening the legal system with matters they can easily and safely solve without conflict. If you determine the neglect is due to ignorance and is not immediately life-threatening, give the owner a chance to make improvements.

HOWEVER there are times when you need to let the professionals handle it. Malicious cruelty is horrifying. You will have no doubt when you see it-- you will probably feel nausea and an urge to grab the dog and run. Bubba, the dog on the left, was rescued from torture. If a dog has cigarette burns, broken bones... if the owner is abusing it during rages or drug/alcohol binges.... Don't try to reason with these people. If it's a relative or friend of yours and you're reluctant to get him/her in trouble... be part of the change and love them by stopping them. The best thing you can do is take photos of abuse and turn them over to authorities. Without hard evidence-- and lots of it-- animal abusers will walk.

Abusers of animals are often abusers of children and spouses. If you need to flee an abusive situation, many women's shelters have resources to provide for the care of clients' pets.

For concerns about animal abuse or neglect:

Shasta County Animal Control: 530-245-6065

Tehama County Animal Care Center: 530-527-3439

Trinity County Animal Control/Shelter: 530-623-1370

Siskiyou County Animal Control: 530-841-4028

Butte County Animal Control: 530-538-7409