Animal neglect: If you're suspicious
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
• 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
• Perform a complete physical examination.
• Perform diagnostic tests. The money you spend on tests may corroborate your
findings, which may prove priceless in the long run.
• Note the animal’s behavior (nervous, shy, apathetic).
• Note whether the animal is in pain or is suffering.
• Document the timeliness of seeking veterinary care.
• If possible, take photos before and after treatment.
• Keep any physical evidence such as an embedded collar, bullet fragment, burned fur, or extracted blood that has evidence of poison or drugs. Put the evidence in a safe place and mark it clearly. If you turn the evidence over to law enforcement, note whom you gave it to and when. The body of a deceased animal is evidence.
• Note any evidence of previous trauma or injury.
• If the animal is euthanized, note the reasons why. Some states have guidelines—for example, “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 for a forensic necropsy. Note who picked up the body and when.
• Do not return the animal (dead or alive) to the client. Call law enforcement if you anticipate conflict with the client or feel your safety 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.