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


Rollin is especially critical of veterinarians' fear of losing clients if they report animal abuse. He uses the voice of Socrates to argue his case. In The Republic, Plato has Socrates asking questions about justice and injustice. Plato, Rollin points out, makes a critical distinction between the art of healing and payment for the art of healing by focusing on the role of the shepherd: "Plato says, what you earn from caring for the sheep is your role as a wage-earner," Rollin explains. "But Plato points out, your primary function as a shepherd is the care of the sheep."

Table 2 Be Prepared to Report Animal Abuse
Before you encounter a case of suspected abuse, you should identify and become acquainted with the appropriate authorities in your area, says Dr. Patronek. All states have laws against animal abuse, but investigative authorities range from a local humane society or Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) with police powers to a municipal animal control office, which is often based within the police department (Table 2). In some communities, enforcement may lie with the local police, sheriff, or municipal animal control. Dr. Patronek recommends developing a working relationship with the executive director, board president, administrator, or chief investigative officer of the appropriate investigative authority to better understand how to approach a case of animal abuse, what options are available for intervention, and what will be expected of you as the case progresses.

Remember, says Dr. Patronek, if you think you see a case of animal abuse, all you need to do is report your suspicions. It is up to the investigator to determine whether these suspicions are verifiable. Veterinarians sometimes think they must be able to establish abuse. But to make a good faith report, they only need a reasonable suspicion. Finding the definitive proof is the job of the investigator, the prosecutor, and the courts.

Dr. Miller agrees: "Veterinarians are asked to report suspicions of abuse, which prompts an investigation to uncover the facts of the case. Some veterinarians are afraid to report because they don't know for a fact the animal has been abused. You don't have to be certain, you just need good faith suspicions. A good faith report is unlikely to create a serious liability problem."

The mechanism for reporting, whether a call or a written report, may vary with the agency, says Dr. Patronek. Anonymous reports are generally much less helpful to investigators, who may later need additional information, than are confidential reports, in which a call is made to a specific investigator with the understanding that the reporter's name is not to be divulged. Once a confidential report is made, the investigator should have no need to divulge the source of the report during the investigation. However, should the case come to trial, the reporting veterinarian could be asked to testify.

Should you decide to report a suspected case of abuse, you must carefully document the injuries as well as other circumstances surrounding the case. Dr. Miller and Zawistowski recommend saving everything—"bits of soil found on the paws, hair with traces of oil or grease, or bits of paint and metal removed from the skin of an animal who was hit by a car...leash, collar, ID tags."13 Include details about the animal—species, breed, age, weight, color, tattoos, ear cropping, tail docking, whether an animal is polydactyl, declawing, dehorning, different color eyes. Note environmental factors—the weather; access to adequate and nutritious food and water, shelter, and shade; cleanliness of the surroundings; and any odors.13 Photographs may be invaluable evidence. Also document who delivered the animal, the precise time and place, and the names of anyone who might have had access to the animal.13

Dr. Miller also advises all veterinarians working on cruelty cases to work closely with the police and investigators to preserve the evidence and safeguard against accusations of tampering and improper handling.


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