Animal Abuse: To Report or Not to Report?
As veterinary professionals, we see our fair share of blood and gore, and although it is sad, we lose patients. But there are some situations that veterinary school never prepares you for. You can read about animal abuse, hear firsthand stories from colleagues, and see stories on the news—but until you’ve treated one, it’s impossible to know what it feels like to see an animal in so much pain and to know that someone intentionally caused it.
Recently, a medium mixed breed dog presented after sustaining an injury seven days prior to presentation. The owners reported they were too busy to bring her in sooner. On examination the pet had an open fracture with gangrenous/necrotic tissue distal to the fracture site on one limb and a closed complete fracture to the other hind limb—there is no way she could have walked.
When I explained the severity of her injuries and the requirements for care, the owners said they did not have the money and wanted to take her home. They were entirely complacent and oblivious to the situation and seemed inconvenienced that they even had to be in the clinic—in fact they tried to leave.
Ultimately, they did euthanize her but “wanted to speed things up” because they had to get home. I was so angry at their callousness, which made it difficult to be cordial with these people. But I had to remain pleasant in order to do what was best for the pet. Had I responded aggressively, they could have refused to euthanize her or even stormed out of the clinic.
The other case was a small dog in which sodomy was suspected. Initially, the owner reported that it was done from a disgruntled neighbor. Later it was discovered that the owner could possibly have done it to his own pet. The dog was left severely injured and required emergency surgery to stabilize it.
Both of these cases arrived at the clinic within close proximity to each other. It left me and the entire staff dealing with the situation drained. We all reported we couldn’t eat—and could not stop thinking about each respective case for some time. I get depressed when thinking about these situations and if I was immersed in these cases day in and day out, I don’t know how I would go on in this profession.
But as is the case in veterinary medicine, I have witnessed stories of humanity’s triumph. When a very critical pet was brought in a couple of months ago that had been hit by a car, the owner had no money for care (not even for the exam fee) and was saying a very emotional his goodbye to his pet. Another client in the waiting room offered to pay $1,500 for the bill. Three days later, after intensive supportive care the owner was reunited with his friend. When I called the Good Samaritan to see how her pet was doing—she stated, “I must have been there for a reason because Sparky returned to normal immediately after I took her home.” I very happily reported that “Sasha” was doing well and going home today and thanked her immensely for her help. She kindly explained no thanks was necessary—it was “just money.” Wow!
Due to the recent animal abuse issues we have seen, the question came up within our clinic—when do we report abuse? It sounds like it should be obvious, but it’s a difficult issue to sort out. Like child abuse, it’s hard to prove and the repercussions range from nothing to a minor felony.
There was little consensus from our staff—some veterinarians argued that if you report abuse cases and nothing happens that the only lesson these folks will learn is, “don’t take your pet to the vet—regardless of their sickness.” After all, even if abusers are forbidden from adopting pets from a shelter does not prevent them from getting animals off the street or finding them through the newspaper.
On the other hand, others argued that if nothing is reported then there is no accountability for what the abusers have done. Please tell me your opinion, as I am struggling with where and when to make that call as a new veterinarian.
What would you do? How do you decide when to report individuals? What has been your experience in doing so? What would you do in each of these situations?