Animal abuse: What practitioners need to know - Veterinary Medicine
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Animal abuse: What practitioners need to know


Whalen was convicted of aggravated animal cruelty, a class E felony in New York, and Dr. Levitzke was on hand to testify. "I told the district attorney, 'You name the time and the place and I'll be there,'" Dr. Levitzke says. "Based on the injuries I found and the story Whalen told the investigators, it was enough to make you sick and very angry."

But according to news accounts, Whalen was not sentenced to jail time for killing Darwin. He was sentenced to alcohol abuse classes, anger management classes, and five years' probation. "As part of the probation," says Pentangelo, "Whalen is prohibited from contact with any animal for five years."

Although Pentangelo sees many cases of animal abuse, what he doesn't see are many cases in which veterinarians are involved. He's not sure why; probably, he says, because abused animals aren't presented that often to veterinarians. And he says he understands why veterinarians might be reluctant to get involved with the legal system. "They will wind up being subpoenaed," he says. "If you're in a solo practice, what are you going to do?" He thinks that the more veterinarians know about animal abuse, the more likely they will identify it and report it.

Pentangelo remembers another case he handled at the ASPCA. A woman had starved her dog, a dog that lived in a milk crate lined with its own feces. When she was arrested, she said, "I can't believe all this trouble over a dog."

We owe it to the animals

Veterinarians, who make their livings and draw their joys from the bright side of the human-animal bond, need to also be aware of what Andrew N. Rowan, PhD, executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, calls "the dark side" of the relationship between people and animals—the side Joe Pentangelo and Dr. Brett Levitzke see all too often.

"We must be careful," Rowan has written in an editorial, "to not let ourselves become so caught up by the rosy side of human-animal attachments that we ignore the other side."1

Dr. Rowan, who edited the Delta Society's Anthrozoös from 1986 to 1996, was primarily addressing the research community in that editorial, but his words apply to companion-animal practitioners as well.

So why should the community of veterinary practitioners step out of their comfort zones and confront animal abuse? Colorado State University bioethicist Bernard E. Rollin, PhD, answers: Why should a pediatrician care about child abuse? A pediatrician's primary role, he says, is to care for children, so a veterinarian's primary role is to care for animals.2 "Veterinarians should care about animal abuse," Rollin says, "simply because they owe it to animals."


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