Reporting Bird Abuse or Neglect
Parrot abuse and/or neglect can occur anywhere these birds are kept or displayed – pet shops and other retail stores, breeding facilities, bird marts, private homes, hotels, restaurants, rescue facilities, veterinary offices, schools, nursing homes, zoos, exhibits, performance venues, and in laboratories.
Individuals who have witnessed a disturbing situation often contact the AWC to request assistance on behalf of birds living in substandard conditions.
While AWC has no legal authority to act on these reports, we are able to provide some helpful resources that concerned individuals can use to take action!
The Initial Steps
In some cases, just developing a relationship with the bird’s guardian, providing him or her with educational materials or resources, and offering simple suggestions can greatly improve the bird’s living conditions and quality of life. A good start would be to provide them with fact sheets or articles on proper bird care such as, “10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Bird Happy” by Born Free USA.
When this approach is unsuccessful, or not an option, it may be necessary to identify and contact agencies that have the authority to investigate and intervene when or if there is a violation of federal, state, or local laws or statutes. However, if a legal violation cannot be cited, there may be little that can be done despite the fact that the animal(s) is not receiving quality care.
Often people are tempted to purchase an animal to rescue him or her from a bad situation. While this may end the suffering of that individual animal, it rewards the animal’s guardian who may merely then obtain or breed other animal who will be similarly mistreated. Carefully weigh these factors in making your decision.
Do not disseminate your concerns or observations widely over the internet, or share them with lists or talk groups. This could end up undermining the efforts of humane enforcement agencies to undertake a thorough, and effective investigation.
Instead, do keep a detailed account of your observations, research the applicable local and state laws, and then notify local humane law enforcement authorities. Be clear, concise, factual, and unemotional in presenting the information and be ready to provide sufficient documentation, including photos if possible, of the conditions.
Remember, you do have the power to effect change for animals. Here’s what you can do!
Identify and Document Bird Abuse or Neglect Situations
If you have witnessed animal cruelty, neglect, substandard conditions, or an animal in severe distress anywhere, keep detailed records of your observations. This will be crucial to building your case to demonstrate a pattern or abuse and/or neglect when contacting law enforcement or humane authorities. Minimal observations should include:
- • Name and location of owner and place
- • Numbers and species of animals of concern
- • Dates observed
- • Photos or videos wherever possible can be invaluable
- • Conditions of water and food
- • Housing (cages, enclosures), sanitation and ventilation
- • Provide specific details about the animals and conditions you observed.
For a helpful guide to evaluate conditions in private and commercial situations, click here for the AWC Bird Care Evaluation Form for Investigating Caregivers and Pet Shops. Note: items covered in this evaluation sheet do not necessarily reflect legal requirements.
Know the Law
First, determine if birds are defined as an "animal" and are covered under the present laws in your state.
Unfortunately, most states have minimal laws to protect animals like parrots and other birds. Birds are often excluded from animal welfare legislation and existing animal cruelty statutes, making it often impossible to define neglect, substandard care and abuse, or to effectively enforce any existing statutes. Currently, there is no regulation governing the breeding and sale of birds, though a USDA regulatory process to govern some commercial bird breeding facilities is pending.
Moreover, animals housed in retail pet facilities are not afforded protection under the federal Animal Welfare Act. In the absence of federal regulation each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia has enacted its own unique animal anti-cruelty statute and 27 states have enacted laws that establish some form of humane care standards for animal kept at pet shops. The quality and scope of these laws vary from state to state as does enforcement. For example, only five states (AZ, CO, KS, NH, VA) require that sick or injured animals receive veterinary care, and while fifteen states prohibit the sale of some unweaned animals (animals unable to feed themselves) most limit the restriction to puppies and kittens under the age of eight weeks and only one state (CA) addresses the sale of unweaned birds despite the serious animal welfare concerns associated with this practice.
Incidents involving substandard care of animals in pet shops are routinely reported to animal welfare organizations but few are actually investigated by law enforcement authorities and often the conditions, while cruel and inappropriate, do not actually violate any laws in the state where the store is located. Often complaints come from employees or other individuals who “don’t want to get involved.” However, without their testimony or “proof’ in the form of photographs, videotape, or other witnesses, the situation can be easily covered up before humane investigators arrive. When reported to management authorities, cases are often downplayed or outright denied. Sadly, even if violations are reported to law enforcement agencies, too few are adequately investigated or result in charges being filed.
|Take a rare peek into a bird mill with 500+ parrots
breeding for the pet trade.
|Legal protections defining neglect, substandard care,
and abuse for captive birds are sorely lacking.
Research Animal Protection Laws & Statutes
For help with defining specific laws and ordinances that apply birds and other animals in specific states, or to research laws and statutes pertaining to animal welfare in your state, review the following resources:
The Animal Legal Defense Fund Law Resources (ALDF)
ASPCA: State Animal Cruelty Law Summaries
The Current State of Pet Shop Laws (Born Free USA)
Current Laws and Suggest Approaches to Improving Captive Bird Welfare
Report Animal Cruelty by the ASPCA
Animal Legal & Historical Center
Report Bird Cruelty & Neglect
Once you’ve determined that birds are covered and enforceable standards exist, the next step is to identify which of your city’s or state’s humane society, animal shelter, animal control organization, or other law enforcement agency is responsible for investigating and enforcing the law. Two excellent resources are available from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):
For helpful tips on reporting animal cruelty and neglect, read The ASPCA’s Guide to Reporting Animal Cruelty
To find out what agencies are authorized to investigate and enforce animal laws in your state, refer to the ASPCA’s State Anti-Cruelty Investigatory-Arrest Powers Summary.
Contact Your Local Humane Society and/or Animal Control Agency
Consult your Yellow Pages or the following websites:
State Animal Control Organizations
ASPCA Searchable Data Base of 5,000 humane societies and animal control organizations
National Animal Control Association
Report Health Related Issues
If you encounter a business establishment, pet shop, or private situation where birds or other animals appear to be ill or are being kept in conditions where sanitation, ventilation, overcrowding, or other factors occur which may jeopardize the health of the animals or humans consider contacting your local Department of Health.
There are a number of viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic diseases that may infect bird species land other exotics, some of which can be spread from animal-to-animal or from animals to humans (zoonoses). Animals kept in extremely close confinement are more susceptible to high levels of stress and illness. Conditions that may conducive to increasing the transmission of infectious disease include;
- • Dead animals in enclosures
- • Over-crowding, poor hygiene, extreme or fluctuating temperatures
- • Sick animals (including those of other animal families) are being housed in close proximity to healthy ones
- • Excessive accumulations of dirt, mold, feces, or other contaminants
- • The presence of rodents, insects, or maggots in animal enclosures
- • Malnutrition or severe stress, both of which impair the immune system
When the Law Is Not on the Side of the Animals
Unfortunately, there will be times when no legal recourse to remedy the situation is available. As heartbreaking or unethical as conditions may be, never give in to the temptation to break the law in the course of your advocacy. Don’t post sensitive information over the internet or use the web to incite unlawful or distasteful approaches to the problem. This will only serve to undermine your efforts to help animals in the future and may even worsen the situation for the animals.
Don’t Give Up
Even if your efforts fail this time, make sure to leave a “paper trail” (i.e. a permanent paper record that can be retrieved at a later date) of the abuse or neglect, as well as of your complaint that can aid in helping future efforts to succeed!
The responsibility and power to improve the lives of birds and other animals everywhere lies with all of us who share our lives with these magnificent creatures. You CAN DO your part to effect change.
Write Letters or an Op Ed –Draw attention to animal protection concerns in your community by writing an editorial or letter to the editor of your local newspaper. For hints on how to write effective letters on advocating for animals, check out: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): Guide to Letter Writing.
Contact Other Professional Associations or Agencies: Voice your concerns by contacting the Better Business Bureau or other professional associations that the business may be accountable to.
Stage an Event – Well-staged events—such as peaceful protests, marches, rallies, sit-ins, and candlelight vigils—can be used to deliver a powerful message to the public. Even something simple like posting flyers or posters can be effective when done at the right place and time.
Keep in the Public Eye – Tabling, leafleting, hosting an event, or distributing effective literature about important animal topics can help you reach people face-to-face, and garner media attention.
Help to Educate – In instances where birds are not receiving optimum care, but no signs of abuse or neglect are evident, offer some helpful advice to help caretakers improve the conditions and environment for their bird(s). The remedy could be as simple as giving them an article or book on proper bird care or offering some hands-on assistance.
For more information on what you can do to help captive birds, visit:
Born Free USA's Guide To Taking Action for Animals
Take Action by the Avian Welfare Coalition
Lobby to Change the Law
For information on how to best impact legislation on animal welfare issues, or to lobby for protective animal legislation in your state, visit these web sites:
Legislative Activism (Born Free USA)
The AWC Animal & Avian Law Resources
Current Law and Suggested Approaches to Improving Captive Bird Welfare (Born Free USA)
You can use your consumer power to stop animal exploitation.
Refuse to patronize the establishment responsible for the animal’s care and politely let the business owner know why you are doing so. If the business is owned or operated by a large corporation, contact corporate executives to express your concerns.
Better yet, don’t shop at stores that sell live animals, and instead, support responsible retailers that refuse to sell animals.
*Special thanks to Dr. Stewart Metz, President/CEO of Project Bird Watch/The Indonesian Parrot Project for his editorial contribution to this web page.