Bringing Veterinarians into the Fight Against Animal Cruelty

Posted by Diane Balkin, ALDF Attorney on March 5, 2012

There is a growing societal awareness about cruelty to and neglect of animals. It has long been recognized that there is a link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans and that animal abuse is often one of the indicators of family violence. Early and aggressive intervention in animal cruelty cases has a positive and proactive impact on public safety and human welfare. Veterinary professionals are beginning to embrace their critical role in reporting animal cruelty.

In order to effectively prosecute those who harm animals there needs to be a collaborative effort among agencies and individuals. Animal cruelty cases are unique because none of the ‘victims’ are able to tell the authorities what happened. Therefore, there is a need for the expertise of a veterinarian or other animal health care professional in nearly every case. Veterinarians are perceived of as a care giving profession and members of the public expect them to be at the forefront of setting the highest standards for animal welfare.

Veterinarians can become involved in a case in a number of ways. Most commonly, an injured or deceased animal will be brought to the hospital, clinic, or shelter for evaluation and treatment. The animal or animals can be brought in by an animal control officer, a good Samaritan, an established client, a stranger, etc. On occasion, a veterinarian may actually respond to the crime scene. Regardless of how the veterinarian becomes involved it is critical for him or her to remain objective and to document his or her findings in an impartial and unbiased manner.

Most veterinarians have not had formal training in recognizing animal abuse as part of their primary education except through available continuing education or textbooks. There is an increasing trend in legislation regarding the veterinarian’s role in reporting animal cruelty. Most of the provisions in the United States are found in either the state’s Veterinary Practice Act or their animal cruelty statute. The laws address both the requirement to report and the civil and criminal immunity and protection given to the practitioner who does file a report. The Animal Legal Defense Fund maintains a current list of those states with some type of duty to report and those states that provide some type of immunity. Mandatory reporting and provisions for immunity need to become a part of every state’s statutes.


4 thoughts on “Bringing Veterinarians into the Fight Against Animal Cruelty

  1. M. Diane Ryan says:

    Hopefully all vets will be required to report cruelty to authorities to save not only the animals but possibly people too.

  2. Absolutely correct. Reporting needs to start with increased awareness of the signs of cruelty and neglect as well as an appreciation for how frequently it occurs. This may not be something that all Veterinary students are exposed to as part of their formal education. A nonprofit started by one of my students, http://www.hand2paw.org, develops this awareness among vet students by having them supervise homeless youth in providing care and training to shelter animals, many of whom were victims of abuse or neglect. In that way, they see and understand the effects of ill treatment and at the same time prevent future cases by providing education about proper care.

  3. Cindy Girgenti says:

    This is a great article! I totally agree, it should be mandatory in all states for veterinarians to report any kind of animal abuse. I wish the laws for punishment were harsher too. This country has a long way to go for that, too many people get away with hurting innocent defenseless sweeties. But thanks to organizations like yours, we’re getting there!

  4. Christine says:

    I strongly agree with Cindy that people seem to get away with a slap on the wrist (a few whole days in jail) for being cruel to animals. These cases need to be treated the same way we would treat a case in which a human being harms or kills another human being. I say place someone in prison for several years for abusing an animal and place someone in the electric chair if they actually kill a sweet, innocent animal. I truly believe this would make other sick people think twice before even looking at a domestic animal the wrong way; therefore, this would eventually eliminate animal cruelty altogether.