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?
• 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
• Note whether the story contradicts your
• 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
• Note the animal’s behavior (nervous, shy,
• Note whether the animal is in pain or is
• Document the timeliness of seeking veterinary
• If possible, take photos before and after
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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.