Gilbert and Kimball Lewis at Tri Star Columbia during the
filming of some TV PSA's on Horse Care in North America.
Report or Not to Report. Is that the Question?
Kimball Lewis. One of North America's foremost experts on
Equine neglect and abuse issues.
relationship between Veterinarian and "Patient"
is unique in more ways than one might think. Recognizing that
we are looking at this relationship as it pertains to the
reporting and/or investigation of alleged neglect and abuse,
there are some key elements to consider.
we look at human victims of rape, assault, neglect or other
forms of abuse there are, more often than not, people who
can give first or second hand accounts of the events leading
up to or surrounding the act. Whereas in the case of animal
abuse or neglect, unless someone has witnessed the act and
reports it to the authorities, the victim can never verbalize
what actually transpired. More often than not this means that
unless the owner of the animal or a witness reports the crime,
it will never be discovered. No starving horse, no abused
dog, no tortured cat has ever picked up the phone and asked
for help. There must be, in each and every case, a person
who steps forward to advocate for the animal. And since owners
are often the ones inflicting the neglect or abuse and witnesses
only observe a fraction of the actual cases this places the
Veterinarian in a very unique posture. The Veterinarian might
well be the only hope, the last line of defense for a creature
that cannot speak for itself.
Enforcement Agencies and Physicians have struggled with the
issue of Doctor -Patient confidentiality on such issues as
rape, incest, child neglect and family matters for decades.
Only during recent times have roles and responsibilities become
more clearly defined. Still, there remains broad latitude
and interpretation of reporting laws from state to state and
between the US and Canada.
Physicians Initially Concerned
obvious concern among Emergency Room Physicians was the potential
to discourage people from seeking treatment if the patient, patient-guardian
or spouse knew beforehand that law enforcement or social services
would become involved post treatment. Indeed, there exists still
today, a reluctance among some patients, guardians, spouses, etc.
to bring a patient in for an injury or illness if they perceive
that officials may scrutinize them. Horror stories of accidents
being interpreted as intentional abuse are still recounted in modern
society. Recently, a Michigan father delayed seeking treatment for
his son who had suffered a broken arm. In a subsequent interview
with the child's father, he related that his estranged wife had
often threatened to accuse him of abuse as a leverage mechanism
in their ongoing court battle over custody for the child. Ironically,
the father realized a self-fulfilling prophecy as his delay in seeking
treatment for his son saw him charged with neglect.
Reporting by Veterinarians
recent years, several States, Provincial and Regional Governments
have grappled with the concept of requiring mandatory reporting
by veterinary concerns. The American Veterinary Medical Associated
Model Veterinary Practice Act includes the reporting of known or
suspected cruelty to animals, animal abuse, or animal neglect as
defined by law. But there is a vast difference between mandatory
reporting and suggested reporting. As of 1997, mandated reporting
of animal abuse was required in Minnesota, West Virginia and Quebec,
Canada. A call to the Alberta SPCA Enforcement Division suggests
that Veterinary professionals are "expected to report"
but not mandated by law.
Liability and Client Privacy Concerns
their human physician counterparts, veterinarians are concerned
about a host of issues pertaining to mandatory reporting. Perhaps
the biggest legal obstacle is the threat of civil action by the
owner of the animal. Loss of business or a "bad rep" in
the community were also cited as concerns. In California, Arizona,
Idaho and West Virginia Veterinarians are protected from civil litigation
under State Law. These laws indemnify the veterinary professional
for "good faith reporting" Indeed, many more Veterinarians
surveyed have indicated they would report abuse more often if they
felt protected by law.
an interesting twist, Veterinarians in Colorado and California are
mandated reporters of child abuse but not animal abuse. But why
would a veterinary clinic be a mandated reporter of child abuse?
Simply put; There is an undeniable link in the patter of violence
against people and animals. It is a proven fact that persons who
commit acts of abuse against animals are much more likely to do
the same to people and while it may be ironic or even confusing
to require a veterinarian to report child abuse and not animal abuse,
these laws, policies and suggestions all point toward a society
that is becoming increasingly aware and proactive about the humane
treatment of animals.
there a pat answer?
common sense could be legislated, all of societies ills would be
resolved with the stroke of a pen. We could eliminate unnecessary,
cumbersome laws with the signing of one simple law mandating common
sense. Unfortunately, we have swung the pendulum far beyond the
point of recall and common sense will never be enacted as a law.
Nonetheless, Veterinarians are, for the most part, still free to
exercise common sense when attending to their daily practice. In
effect, Veterinarians should resolve to "do the right thing"
within reason and common sense. It is speculated that during the
next decade, most states and provinces will enact some form of mandatory
reporting. This takes any latitude of discretion away from the Doctor
and make reporting compulsory. In this scenario, there is a potential
for innocent lives to be ruined on both sides of the fence. It is
important that we understand the mechanics of abuse and neglect
to better understand when to report and when not to.
of Abuse and Neglect.
the first two paragraphs of the paper titled "Horse Abuse and
Neglect in North America" we define in great detail, that the
difference between abuse and neglect are more than semantics. Recognizing
these differences is as important as understanding the mechanics
between the two. Intentional abuse is just that. The word "intent"
denotes that the act was done in a purposeful manner and was no
act of omission nor was it born out of ignorance or neglect. Neglect
cases outnumber abuse cases by a ratio of 10-1. Still, any investigator
will tell you that they can recall in great detail, nearly every
abuse case they have handled while neglect cases are a blend of
owner ignorance and financially motivated woes. Stabbing, hanging,
lighting on fire and other unimaginable forms of torment are commonplace
in abuse investigations. Virtually every serial killer apprehended
during the past century had some history of animal abuse in their
resume of criminal history. Animal abuse and domestic violence as
well as collateral family violence go hand in hand. This is exactly
the reason why Colorado Authorities mandate that both Animal Control
Officers and Veterinarians report child abuse. Authorities recognize
that these two groups of professionals are often exposed to episodes
of animal abuse and therefore, are likely to witness some other
evidence of family violence such as child abuse. There should be
no question in anyone's mind as to the importance of reporting intentional
Neglect is not as neatly packaged as abuse. Neglect can mean a variety
of things. Most obvious are:
Failure to provide adequate shelter
2. Failure to provide necessary sustenance which might include food
3. Failure to provide veterinary care for an existing illness or
reasons for animal neglect are even more open to interpretation.
During the course of my career as a state investigator, special
agent and director of two of the largest animal enforcement agencies
in the US it is estimated that I processed, investigated or otherwise
supervised more than 10,000 neglect and abuse investigations. My
first and second hand knowledge of these cases makes me absolutely
qualified to offer the following patterns in a factual rather than
simply anecdotal fashion. Causes for animal neglect in order of
Owner Ignorance ( basic lack of understanding of the needs of that
2. Financial. Bankruptcy, loss of work, divorce, overspending and
general lack of resources
3. Plain Apathy: Laziness. Lack of moral discipline. Instant gratification
society means instant divestiture society. Easy come, easy go etc.
These are the kind of people that would rather sit on the couch
with a six-pack than show up at an absolutely free spay and neuter
clinic. Too lazy to drive to the vet, pick up hay, clean stalls
4. Narcotics abuse. Meth or other chemical addiction. Alcoholism
5. Domestic Violence. Husband cuts off pets to punish spouse. Father
won't feed dog to punish child etc.
Because of the diverse scenarios behind neglect, reporting by the
Veterinary Community requires equally diverse discretion and therefore
would be dangerous to legislate. More often than not, neglect can
be resolved by education, assistance and support. Understanding
and programs aimed at helping those in need are the absolute best
recourse for these situations. Reporting should be reserved for
those given the opportunity to correct or amend a neglect situation
that have chosen to consciously ignore these efforts.
many humane organizations and animal rights groups place their emphasis
strictly toward saving or helping pets when it is the animal steward
or owner that programs should be aimed at helping. In effect, help
the owner and you help the pet.
exception to neglect reporting might be exigent circumstances cases.
In 1999 I received a call from a well know and respected Equine
Veterinarian. He had been called t a barn for the first time to
treat a horse that was down. Upon his arrival he observed a 7 year
old gelding which was subsequently scored at a 1.5 The horse was
in an advances state of wasting and needed to be euthanized. A field
necropsy and subsequent laboratory tests confirmed starvation as
the primary factor for the horses condition. Other horses at the
barn where also scored at between 2 and 3.0. Several horses were
seized and the owner, a Meth Addict subsequently convicted. The
dilemma that arose was this;
the veterinarian, when summoned to the barn to help horses, and
upon his observation of these horses observe an advanced state of
neglect, notify authorities and what is his liability? After all,
he was summoned there by the same people he subsequently reported.
is reasonable and prudent for a veterinary professional to step
forward and advocate for animals in dire need and it is necessary
for Veterinarians to report any and every case of intentional abuse.
the Author: Kimball Lewis is an Idaho Cowboy, Poet and Author
who travels throughout the U.S., Canada and The U.K speaking to
audiences of all backgrounds. His most recent book, A Practical
Guide to Horses is touted as the best on the market. Kimball recently
presented the Fred Pierce Memorial Address at the Canadian Horse
Breeders and Owners Conference in Red Deer Alberta. Interested in
having him speak you your group or organization? Email his publicist