TOO OFTEN, pet ownership goes wrong.

The reasons are legion. People don't have the cash to properly support their companions—and sometimes not even the capacity to care for themselves. Or maybe a person didn't realize they were terrified of chinchillas until they owned one, and now little Maurice is stuck in his cage in some spare room, wondering where the food went.

It's into these often-harrowing situations that the Oregon Humane Society launches its "humane investigations" team, a crack squad made up of certified police officers, veterinarians, coordinators, an attorney, and a field investigator.

The investigators see no shortage of disturbing, disgusting situations. In the last three months, they rescued more than 150 cats from just two houses, and have responded to more than 1,800 calls so far this year. The team responds to the dire straits of pets throughout Oregon, but mostly finds itself busy in the Portland area, and around Salem.

It's important work, and you should know how it works. We asked team leader Linda Fielder for some details.

MERCURY—How do your investigations tend to be generated? 

LINDA FIELDER—They most often begin with a report from a concerned citizen—a neighbor or family member who is worried for an animal's welfare. We also respond to requests from other law enforcement agencies for help with cases involving animals. Anyone who witnesses animal abuse or neglect can file a report with us—we receive calls from veterinarians and even delivery people or repair technicians who run across situations that concern them in the course of their work.

Are there common abuse/neglect scenarios you see again and again?

There's a lot of variety in the animals we see since Oregon's laws apply to all animals, from fish to cattle. While cases involving cats, dogs, and horses are most common, we respond to calls about backyard chickens, herds of alpaca, and neglected snakes, rats, and rabbits. The scenarios are often the same regardless of the species, and we most often find animals in situations where the owners are not providing adequate food, shelter, or sanitation, or failing to get veterinary care for a sick or injured animal.

We encounter a lot of animal hoarding situations. These cases are especially complex and heartbreaking because of the sheer number of animals involved and the horrible conditions they are forced to live in. Because these animals are often locked away inside a hoarder's home, it is sometimes years before their condition is discovered and reported. These cases require a lot of resources to rescue and treat so many animals, and can really tax an animal shelter's capacity for housing.

What advice can you offer pet owners who may be in danger of falling into a neglectful situation?

One of the most common causes of animal neglect is a lack of resources to address an animal's needs. In other words, money. If your pet is sick or injured and you can't afford veterinary care or you aren't able to provide adequate food or shelter, it's important to know how and where to get help.

How about neighbors or acquaintances who see a situation they want to report?

If you witness animal abuse or are concerned for the welfare of an animal, visit the Oregon Humane Society website to file a report at under the "services" tab.