The Relevance of the Link for Veterinary Medical Professionals
Veterinarians and their staff may observe indicators or evidence of animal neglect or cruelty during the normal course of their duties.
Additionally, veterinarians and their staff may observe, suspect or learn about other Link related issues such as:
- child maltreatment
- criminal activity
- interpersonal violence
- maltreatment of at-risk adults
The veterinarian’s response will vary according to each situation and whether or not action is mandated on their part. In cases where action is not mandated, veterinarians have discretion with regard to whether to respond to a particular issue and to what degree.
- Are there immediate safety issues?
- Should law enforcement be notified?
- Is there a mandated reporting issue?
- What are the ramifications of responding (or not responding) to a non-“mandated reporting” concern?
- Can informational resources be discreetly provided to suspected victims of interpersonal violence?
The Veterinarian’s Roles in the Link
1. Mandated reporter
Colorado veterinarians are mandated to report:
- suspected child neglect or abuse per Colorado Revised Statute 19-3-304
- animal cruelty per Colorado Revised Statute 12-64-121 (as defined by CRS 18-9-202)
- animal fighting per Colorado Revised Statute 12-64-121 (as defined by CRS 18-9-204)
CRS 12-64-121 does not allow for client/patient privilege to exclude veterinarians from this responsibility, but it does provide for immunity for reporting in good faith.
The veterinarian may play an initial role as an investigator since they may be observing, gathering and documenting information which may provide sufficient information to require reporting animal cruelty. Information obtained through veterinary medical and forensic procedures may be evidential in nature and is often the underlying basis for further investigation and/or charging of animal cruelty by law enforcement officials.
3. Expert witness
In the role of expert witnesses, veterinarians can articulate information determining the nature and level of harm to an animal; alternative explanations for an animal’s condition, the level of pain and suffering an animal would experience and, in some cases, the degree to which the harm was intentionally caused by a human.
Routinely, veterinarians educate clients regarding medical conditions, care options and prognosis. In cases where there are concerns regarding the care and condition of an animal that do not reach the threshold of reportable maltreatment, the veterinarian may assume the role of educator regarding matters of proper and humane care of animals, injury identification, forensic investigation or other topics.
5. Care coordinator/provider
Some veterinarians may choose to function as a temporary care coordinator or provider for abused or neglected animals or the animals of individuals that are victims of maltreatment such as domestic violence. In some instances, the availability of a safe place for their animal(s) may be the determining factor in an individual’s decision to leave a violent situation.
6. Emotional support
The profound nature of the human-animal bond is perhaps at its most poignant level when people are seeking veterinary care for animals suffering from significant injury, disease and end of life issues. The highly emotional nature of such circumstances calls upon veterinarians to support clients as they make emotionally painful decisions regarding their animals and also begin to experience issues of grief and loss.