Dear PoPville – 911 Responding to Anonymous Calls for an Animal in Distress

Photo by PoPville flickr user Massoud Adibpour

Dear PoPville,

I dialed 911 twice last night and once this morning. On my walk home last night, I heard a loud growling/snarling coming from a basement unit on my street, which to me sounded like a dog either in extreme distress or in a fight. I called animal control, but because the animal was not outside and thus not under their jurisdiction, they directed me to the police. This was around 9 PM.

I did not feel comfortable leaving my contact information with 911; I wanted my concerns to be anonymous because I live on the same block and do not want to get involved in a potentially scary scenario involving my neighbors. The person I spoke with at 911 said that I would not be required to come outside and speak to the police, but that they would dispatch someone to check out the property. I left my first name and cell phone number, but did not receive a call later on to update me on what they found, if anything.

Around midnight, I heard more sounds coming from what sounded like the same unit. This time, though, it sounded like the dog was hurt or in danger. I called again, and 911 said they would dispatch someone to look into it. Once again, I didn’t hear anything further from them. The sounds seemed to stop, or at least were not keeping me awake anymore, so I assumed that it was worked out overnight.

However, on my way to work this morning, I heard more distressed sounds coming from what I assume is the same animal. It appears that he/she was still inside the unit, so I called 911 for the third time. I was connected directly with the police dispatch, who told me that she did not have any updates for me from last night. Here is what concerned me the most: she said that unless I was willing to speak with police when they arrived, there was not much they could do. I expressed my concern that this prevents neighbors from calling when they think someone needs help for fear of inflaming a situation with someone on their street, and she agreed that this is problematic. The last thing I want is for these particular neighbors to find out that I’m the one who called. If there is, in fact, something shady happening at that house, I certainly do not want to be on their radar.

I guess my question to you and to your readers is this: have you called 911 with an anonymous tip before? If so, were they helpful, or did they expect you to step outside and give a statement, which would defeat the purpose of giving a tip anonymously?

Further, I am very worried about the animal(s) living in this unit. This is not the first time I’ve heard a disturbance from them before, and I don’t know who else to call if both animal control and the police are not doing a whole lot to help. If there is an abusive situation, something needs to be done. Any advice or information you could provide would be very helpful.

43 Comment

  • Could you skip the police and call animal control?

    • “I called animal control, but because the animal was not outside and thus not under their jurisdiction, they directed me to the police. This was around 9 PM. “

      • I frequently wrestle my dog and tease him with toys and he growls and barks during that in my house, if someone called the cops on me for speculation of abuse I’m glad it would be handled in the way it has thus far… People deserve a right to privacy unless there is obvious evidence of abuse… The same right that protect your neighbors have with cops etc; are the same rights you rely on to keep your own home secure. They will face punishment if they do bad things in due time if they are doing something bad, but prying into someone’s home is crossing the line. I hate to say it here, but this sounds like a case for not being nosy…

        • Would you say the same thing if a human was screaming? If so, I really hope we’re not neighbors.

          • Maybe there’s just a guy turning into a werewolf in there. I don’t know for sure unless there are clear facts. If you really care, then leave your info with the PoPo… Snitch. LOL.

  • Is there somewhere near your house where the police tend to congregate, park their cars temporarily etc? You could inform officers directly and be on your way.

    Barring that, could you meet the officers a block or so over, at a nearby store etc and talk them away from your house?

    • Allison

      +1 — just talking to cops hanging out on corners has been effective for getting things done for me, as long as they’re not doing anything at the time besides general patrol, they’ve never just not done something when I’ve spoken to them about a nearby issue.

  • contact the Washington Humane Society’s Humane Law Enforcement Department immediately.

    Call (202) BE HUMANE (202-234-8626)

    • If that is an option why doesn’t MPD do this?

      (Somewhat rhetorical question)

      • MPD focuses on people over animals.

        WHS focuses on animals and is mandated to look into all animal complaints.

        • That’s exactly my point. MPD should happily turf this complaint to someone else who can actually do something about it.

          • Yes, call WHS. I have done this under similar circumstances. They send out an officer — with a badge and a gun and power of arrest, I believe. And they will call you back after the visit to tell you what happened. MPD wont take your call seriously bc they basically view animal abuse as a minor property crime.

          • And they are fine with anonymous tips. I did leave my name though bc I felt confident in their professionalism. Your identity would only be needed in case criminal charges were brought and they needed you as a witness. Chances are, though, your primary concern is the welfare of the animal, not the criminal prosecution of the owner.

  • OP,

    My understanding is that DC Police will act on anonymous tips only when they concern or relate to violent crimes. The Humane Society has its own Law Enforcement division, and while understaffed, may be your best bet if you are unwilling to talk to the MPD. They deal with abuse cases. You can reach them at 202BEHUMANE.

  • Have you also tried the Washington Humane Society directly. (202) BE HUMANE (202-234-8626)? They have separate officers (I think) who deal with animal cruelty reports (which is different from animal control, ie, stray dogs running at large.) They specifically say you can report anonymously. From their website:

    “Anyone can report abuse (or even suspected abuse) to the Washington Humane Society 24- hours a day. You don’t need to leave your name, just tell us where the animal is and what the problem is and we will send an officer to investigate.”

    I certainly hope it’s not true that they can’t do anything about animal cruelty unless the animal is outside.

    FWIW, I’ve called 911 before, and was able to make a report anonymously, and no one said I had to be there or come out to talk to police. But let’s just say the quality of the operators varies…

  • i tried leaving an anonymous tip when i saw three kids breaking into a neighbor’s home, but alas, they made me come out to speak to them… i didn’t want anyone to see me with the cops because i didn’t want a retaliation of any kind… but i spoke with them and told them honestly that i didn’t feel comfortable speaking out in the open like that… they were nice about it and tried to accommodate me as best they could. never did find out if they caught a thief in the act…

  • Agree with those suggesting Wash Humane’s HLE. They are not restricted to outdoor animals – that is Animal Control, which is a different unit. Quite frankly, I”m not surprised MPD did not respond – they have more than their hands full with derelict, violent teenagers.

  • You can also report possible dogfighting to 877-HSUS-TIP. That is the humane society. In addition, you can text tips anonymously to the police by using 50411. Here is a link with other options:,a,1242,q,564693,mpdcNav_GID,1523,mpdcNav,%7C.asp

  • We’ve had an almost IDENTICAL experience over the last week where we live in Sterling, VA. A neighbor’s dog has been out on their deck in the sub-freezing temperatures all night long howling miserably. We have called the Loudoun Sheriff’s office at least 3 times to complain and have gotten similar responses as you; “We’ll send someone out. Would you like to meet the officer there?” Of course, like you, I was hesitant to do that (especially at 12:30am). But we got no follow up call and the dog was at it again within hours. Very sad (and irritating when you’re trying to sleep) and we don’t know how to fix the situation.

    • If the dog has food, water and shelter, there is nothing they can do. The laws are archaic, but that is what they are.

      • If it is below freezing, the animal must have heated shelter outside. if not, the owners can be fined/dog removed for safety.

        And if the dog barks continously (or off and on all night) it is a noise violation, and the owners can be fined.

        • That depends on the town and county. For example, I called once to the animal control in Fauquier County and they told me: shelter and water is all that’s required.

  • One more idea is to get on the MPD list serv for your police district (found here:,a,1242,q,565764.asp) and report it. I know there’s good response in the 3rd District where I live.

    • This is the right answer. The weak link in this whole scenario is not MPD, but the Office of Unified Communications [OUC]- a separate [and horribly mismanaged IMO] agency that handles all police and Fire Dep’t communications & 911 calls. They are a huge impediment to the police and citizens here. By going directly to the MPD list-servs, you get to circumvent them entirely. If you have an immediate and obvious health/life emergency, 911 is obviously your best bet [and unfortunately it is a bit of a gamble with OUC] but the list-servs are a great source for MPD command response to an ongoing issue such as this.

      • ^^This.

        If you’re not on your police department’s neighborhood list-serve, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

  • For this and all other matters, consider getting the name and email address of your Council member and the Police District Commander for your area. Send an email to them asking for prompt action to rectify the situation, and I suspect you might find that the top down orders approach may work better than the bureaucracy of 911 dispatch.

  • I have called police many times anonymously, and it has never prevented them from responding. Also, I have found that contacting my council member (mine is Jim Graham) is very effective at getting the police, or any other city agency, to address to an ongoing problem. Obviously, that isn’t going to help someone (person or dog) who needs immediate assistance.

  • We’ve also been told by 911 dispatchers that the police won’t respond to (or will deprioritize) anonymous calls that don’t involve violent crimes. We moved into a new place this summer and had ridiculously noisy neighbors who hosted after-hours parties (think 3-7am) but didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot before we met them, and didn’t want to engage with a group of drunk people we didn’t know, who seemed to be verging on getting violent judging from some of the noise, at 4am, so called the police. We were told that if we didn’t leave information, they wouldn’t respond.

    • This is patently untrue. I call the cops for everything and I always get a cop within 3-5 minutes. I’ve called for alley vagrants, people “camping” in abandoned back yards, and kids shooting off fireworks. I always get a cop to my door.

      If it makes a difference though, I’m in 1-D. The same 1-D where people are b***ing about how much money the commander makes. I gotta tell you, it’s one of the few things DC is overpaying for that’s worth every dime.

      Also, while the OP is likely a woman and I understand the concerns, GROW a pair and let the cops come to your door. If you’re afraid, take a self defense or shotgun training class. People in this city have a right to feel safe from harassment. Stand up.

  • call the cops, tell them you think that a PERSON is in danger in the basement of the home. they’ll have to enter to verify, and will find the source.

    • Please don’t do this – it sounds like there are other agencies that can respond. Exaggerating a complaint to get the police isn’t a good idea.

    • this is straight up horrible advice. what you are advocating is basically a crime.

  • This same thing happened to me! I called 911 to report what sounded like a dog that was cleary in distress and had been barking for two days straight. I told the 911 dispatcher that I didn’t want to have the police interview me because the house that it was coming from was right behind mine. I waited and watched for an hour and never saw any police arrive. What recourse do we have? What do you do when you call 911 and the police never come?

    • me

      This happened to me- I called the police for a couple of things (a couple of times, unrelated) and no one ever showed up. So, I called the precinct and they sent me a complaint form, which I filled out, and I am waiting on a response.

  • What a coward and creepy. If you really care and are concerned, why don’t you knock the door and ask if the dog is fine or call the building manager and ask him to accompany you. Someone called for a police anonymously and an officer from the humane society came to see me. Apparently, someone who does not have a life, mean spirited, evil and who does not have a better thing to do decided to call about my dog was skinny. The humane society came and told me your dog is not skinny and it is probably someone who doesn’t know any thing about the breed of your dog who made the call. I was very angry that someone called a police on me and I felt annoyed, unsafe and threatened. If I have known the person who called the police on me, I would have hired an attorney and would have taken a legal action for harassment and other things. Leave your neighbor alone and get a life and hubby.

    • Your comments are a bit petty and harsh, but I do agree with what you are saying overall. Why does this tipster have such an aversion to speaking directly to the police? Do they have warrants or something? The tipster’s story is fishy at best.

      • It is not petty and harsh. You would have said the same thing if you were on my shoes. I imported my dog from a different country and paid a lots of money for it. I live in a very high end condominium and if my neighbor whoever it was thinks that my dog is skinny and he could have asked. Or, take his concerns to the building manager. It is cowardly, creepy and the only person who would do that is with some evil intention. I think people who call the police anonymously are cowards and assholes. They need to stop abusing the 911 and mind their own business. As a matter of fact, they need to go jail for abusing 911 calls.

    • I understand that you feel angry over being falsely reported. But I’d rather people be falsely reported and cleared of those charges then have no one ever turn people in and let the really bad people doing what ever they want.

      • Agreed (mostly). I had a similar thing happen to me when a neighbor alerted police/DCHS thinking I was harming one of my dogs when in reality she was crying to high heaven twice a day when I had to irrigate her ears for a terrible ear infection. While I wish the neighbor would have been more of a man and talked to me about personally before doing what he did, I was actually pleased to see that the Humane Society law enforcement people were out there within 24 hours to check it out…makes me happy to know dogs and other animals have some good guys on their side.

        • thanks. I was trying to say what you said — but it came out wrong. Its best to talk to the potential offender before reporting but if you don’t feel safe then it’s always best to just report it.

  • I echo the advice to call WHS. I’ve done this in my neighborhood (are you in Petworth by chance?) and been allowed to talk to the officer for follow up even though I’ve made the report anonymously (which one does not necessarily do out of cowardice, previous poster, if there is a dogfighting link the people you would confront are not the sort of people you want seeing your face). Also yes to councilmembers – bug them!

  • incase people are interested here are the DC humane laws:

    Report any suspeced cases of animal abuse or neglect here: (202) BE HUMANE (202-234-8626). I reported a neighbor who was kicking and punching his puppy in his yard. They immediately sent someone to the address to investigate.

    Here is more information on what constitutes abuse and neglegt from the WHS:

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