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Animal neglect: If you're suspicious
Learn what to do when you suspect neglect.
Establish several contacts in law enforcement before you need them, and post their contact information prominently in your hospital. Contact someone on the list anytime you suspect abuse. When you do see a suspicious case, don't compromise timely treatment of the animal. But do everything you can to document its condition. Some key steps:
1. Be objective, honest, and thorough. If possible, have another veterinarian (or another witness) document his or her observations, too.
2. Document everything the client tells you.
• Note the client's relationship to the animal (owner, petsitter, neighbor, “good Samaritan”).
• Note the client's behavior: Concerned? Apathetic?
• If your client admits incriminating conduct, try to write down exactly what he or she says.
• Note whether the client's story changes.
• Note whether one client's story contradicts another's.
• Note whether the story contradicts your physical findings.
• Is the client an established client? Do you have a treatment history for the animal?
• If a very young child (less than 10 years old) is responsible for the act, you must intervene and report.
3. Conduct a thorough examination and note the animal's condition in the medical record.
• Perform a complete physical examination.
• Perform diagnostic tests. The money youspend on tests may corroborate your
findings, which may prove priceless in thelong run.
• Note the animal's behavior (nervous, shy,apathetic).
• Note whether the animal is in pain or issuffering.
• Document the timeliness of seeking veterinarycare.
• If possible, take photos before and aftertreatment.
• Keep any physical evidence such as anembedded collar, bullet fragment, burnedfur, or extracted blood that has evidenceof poison or drugs. Put the evidence in asafe place and mark it clearly. If you turnthe evidence over to law enforcement, notewhom you gave it to and when. The body ofa deceased animal is evidence.
• Note any evidence of previous trauma orinjury.
• If the animal is euthanized, note the reasonswhy. Some states have guidelines-forexample, “extreme pain and suffering” or“injured beyond recovery.”
• If the animal is dead or must be euthanized,store the body until it can be transported fora forensic necropsy. Note who picked up thebody and when.
• Do not return the animal (dead or alive)to the client. Call law enforcement if youanticipate conflict with the client or feel yoursafety or the safety of others is at risk.
4. Report your suspicions to law enforcement.
5. Additional guidance after reporting:
• Refrain from discussing the matter with the media.
• Upon request, provide copies of your records to law enforcement officials and turn over any physical evidence.
• Complete a detailed written or tape-recorded statement close to the time of the event.
• Know who you're talking to and who they represent. Refresh your memory by reviewing your records before talking about the case with others. You have the right to speak or not speak to anyone regarding the matter.
• If you are concerned about your safety, the police or prosecuting attorney can assist with a restraining order.
• Testify in court. Whoever subpoenas you should be able to work with you and make it as convenient as possible. Simply tell the truth to the best of your ability.
This protocol is adapted from materials presented by Deputy District Attorney Diane Balkin at AAHA's annual conference March 17-21, 2007.