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Veterinarians Need To Report Animal Abuse
Originally posted August 27, 2010
I'm writing this article as a plea to veterinarians to help the abused and neglected pets out there who have no voice. While I am writing this article for the veterinarians of animals in private practice, there is much information the public should read and understand the problem of animal abuse.
What is considered animal abuse? Well, it varies from state to state. It would be great to have one universal law on animal abuse. Don't hold your breath. The definition of animal cruelty is any act that causes an animal unjustifiable pain or suffering. Animal neglect covers any act that causes physical injury or death. This includes withholding food, water, shelter and veterinary care.
Veterinarians in private practice need to step up and recognize the important role they play in the detection and reporting of animal abuse. There may be a lot of people who never take their pets to the vet when seriously ill and that could present a problem of the abuse being stopped. I'm not critisizing people who use holisic medicine to treat their pets. I'm talking about people who hurt their pets intentionally and for kicks. Many pet owners need education while others should be put in jail for a long long time.
The laws do differ from state to state as to whether the veterinarian must have proof of abuse or only a well-founded suspicion. The list below is from 2007 and I apologize if I've missed any states where reporting is now mandatory.
States that require vets to report cases of abuse include.
* Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois,
* Kansas (failure to report may result in disciplinary action)
* Maryland (statute encourages veterinarians to report and regulation indicates veterinarian should report)
* Oregon (reporting required for suspicion of aggravated abuse)
* Oklahoma (report required within 24 hours)
* West Virginia (duty to do so)
* Wisconsin and Minnesota
In my opinion, New York has one of the best laws for reporting abuse. New York law protects any veterinarian who reports a suspected case of animal cruelty or animal neglect. It is a "good faith" law, which means the vet may report anyone suspected of violating animal welfare state laws. These laws may concern abuse, cruelty, or neglect.
For years veterinarians have considered themselves between a rock and a hard place. They may feel their patient is in an abusive atmosphere, but afraid to report the abuse because of veterinary-client confidentiality. Hopefully, this attitude is changing.
A veterinarian must evaluate each case that goes thru his/her office. If an animal is injured, was the injury an accident or animal cruelty. Sometimes an animal is injured totally by accident and the vet only needs to educate the family and treat the pet. Did the owner seek prompt care? Is the owner remorseful? These questions play a role in whether the case should be reported as abuse or should the family be better informed on pet care.
Veterinarians must be the voice of the abused. Their role in a cruelty to animals case is to verify the abuse has taken place and also how long and how badly the animal suffered from abuse.
If abuse is suspected, the first move is to document everything about the animal. Run extra tests, take extra x-rays. Document all abuse, take pictures and don't be afraid to report it to the proper authorities. Without the expert testimony of a veterinarian, many abusers would walk free.
A lot of vets are also nervous about presenting testimony in front of a judge. The main thing to remember is NOT to use TV courtroom dramas to practice. The knowledge of a case should be presented in a clearly understood manner that the average public can understand. Mainly what kind of abuse was done, how bad it was and how long the animal suffered afterward. More information on this topic can be found at http://www.aspcapro.org/the-veterinarians-legal-role-in-animal-c.php.
In closing, please consider the chance that a small child has witnessed the abuse. Several years ago a case was prosecuted where a drunken boyfriend kicked and stabbed the family dog. The boyfriend received three years probation for endangerment of a small child. Animal abusers often abuse other family members, including the elderly. This is not a subject that only affects the pet in the family.
I ask that veterinarians be the voice of the abused. Because their voices may be the best chance an abused animal (or another household member) has.
http://www.wsava.org/AniWelfareComm1.htm World Small Animal Veterinary Association.