Cruelty Investigations & Reporting

There is nothing more important than our anti-cruelty work and we appreciate that so many residents care about animals to report suspected animal cruelty and neglect to us. Our anti-cruelty work is limited to San Mateo County. If you observed a questionable incident in another county, please contact the animal welfare group located in that county.

Responding to reports of animal cruelty is vital work, performed at PHS/SPCA by two highly trained Humane Investigators. In cases involving unintentional neglect, we generally make education-only, welfare visits. However, we can and do remove animals from harm’s way when abuse is clear and intentional, then work with our District Attorney’s Office which prosecutes violators. Please understand that our Humane Investigators are required to work under existing, imperfect state laws. By law, people must provide their pets with food, water, shelter, sanitary living conditions, and any necessary veterinary care. This means that people can leave a dog in a yard all day without walks or socialization. Though inhumane in our view, it’s not illegal.


If you think of an animal is being abused in San Mateo County, please call 650-340-7022, ext. 601 or contact us by email at [email protected].

Messages are reviewed the day we receive them and are prioritized and investigated as soon as possible.

Anonymous reporting is not preferred, since we cannot call you back if more information is needed about the situation.

Regardless of your reporting method please include the following information:

  1. Briefly describe the situation that you believe needs our attention
  2. Provide an exact address, including the city, where the situation is located
  3. Please describe the animals/owners involved (if known) along with any possible safety concerns
  4. Indicate how long the situation in question been happening

To begin an investigation PHS/SPCA needs people with firsthand knowledge to be the ones reporting the situation. Second and third hand reports do not rise to the level of probable cause as far as the 4th Amendment is concerned. The 4th Amendment in part says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” Animals are property and as such PHS/SPCA has no right to enter property to view animals or situations that aren’t in plain sight, unless some level of exigency is also involved.

Example: If you can see an animal cruelty situation from your second floor window, but make an anonymous report, our Humane Investigators might not be able to see the same situation from street level. If you left your contact information our Humane Investigators may call you back to see if you can point out the animal cruelty situation to them from your vantage point. Only then would they have probable cause to make a warrantless entry if the situation was seen by them to be an exigent one.

PHS/SPCA does not handle barking dog complaints – please contact your City (or the County if you’re in an unincorporated area of San Mateo County) to find out the proper barking dog complaint reporting procedure. Often people call us with false or misleading information in order to get us to respond to what is actually a barking complaint or some other (often non-animal related) neighborhood dispute. Calling in false or misleading situations to get us to respond only prevents our two Humane Investigators from being able to quickly respond to situations of real animal cruelty or neglect.

Humane Investigations

Our Humane Investigation work is funded entirely by donations and is carried out by our two Humane Investigators – and not by Animal Control Officers. As evidenced by media accounts, we take this work seriously and our team is a model for other humane organizations across the country. To help fund our cruelty investigations work, please contact Lisa Van Buskirk at 650-340-7022 ext. 327 or click here to email her. You may also use the button below to donate online.