Today's Veterinary Business

DEC-JAN 2017

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31 December 2017/January 2018 • TODAYSVETERINARYBUSINESS.COM ment to report and (b) immunity if she does report. You may ask what's the differ- ence between this group and the easiest category up top? At least in these five states the legislature officially recognizes a voluntary responsibility or the possibility of reporting. This language hints at a legal duty, although voluntary should mean voluntary. Fourth Easiest Nevada and Missouri have (a) voluntary encouragement to report but (b) no immunity. The legislature giveth, and it taketh away. There is voluntary encouragement but no protection from legal liability. A pet owner un- happy with your voluntary report can sue for breach of confidenti- ality, gross negligence, breach of contract, negligence and more. The safest route here is to do nothing despite your moral concerns. More Difficult Pennsylvania has (a) mandatory duty to report only if observed in the conduct of another veterinarian and (b) no immunity. In the Keystone State, you have an absolute duty, under the threat of discipline, to report a fellow veterinarian whom you observe mistreating an animal, but the statute provides no immunity if the veterinarian comes after you. Otherwise, Pennsylvania does not mandate reporting of abuse by a pet owner. Voluntary reporting is permitted, of course, but no immu- nity is extended to the veterinarian. A Little More Difficult Alabama, Illinois and Oregon have (a) mandatory duty to report if ag- gravated or grossly inhumane treat- ment is observed, but (b) only Illinois and Oregon provide immunity. You are on the hook if you observe the abuse and it rises above neglect to "aggravated" or "grossly inhumane" cruelty (whatever that means). Much More Difficult The nine states highlighted in the map below have (a) mandatory duty to report if a veterinarian reasonably suspects some level of cruelty, ne- glect or abuse and (b) immunity. This group of states consider- ably raises the bar and mandates reporting if the veterinarian has a reason to suspect that a pet is be- ing abused or mistreated, even just negligently. In other words, a legal obligation is triggered based upon what the veterinarian observes. Still, these states provide legal im- munity under the circumstances. Even More Difficult North Dakota has (a) mandatory duty to report only while the ani- mal is in the veterinarian's custody and the veterinarian reasonably suspects cruelty or abuse, but (b) no immunity. The report must take place while the animal is in the clin- ic or boarding kennel. This creates an awkward situation as the clock ticks. Most Difficult Kansas and Minnesota have (a) mandatory duty to report based upon the veterinarian's reasonable suspicion of abuse, cruelty or neglect, but (b) no immunity. There you have it: an absolute duty to report if the veterinari- an suspects a problem but no statutory legal protection from a pet owner lawsuit. Where Do We Go From Here? With American's appreciation of companion animals, fueled in part by greater awareness of the pow- erful human-animal bond, we may expect more states to up the ante for veterinarians and demand man- datory reporting of animal abuse or neglect. If this occurs, it's only fair for the veterinary profession to demand legal immunity under the circumstances. The public will not have a problem with this as there are many precedents with other professions and whistleblower laws. Don't tell a professional when her license is on the line that she has a legal duty to report client behavior to the authorities but then expose her to client lawsuits. Only 28 states offer immunity, so there is no excuse for the other 22 states not to recognize the inherent fairness and strong public policy argument for granting immunity as well. This cause must be taken up by organized veterinary medicine. A new layer of moral respon- sibility is gathering steam on the other side of the Atlantic, and it bears watching. British and U.S. researchers have observed for decades a link between childhood abuse of animals and later inci- dents of domestic abuse toward women and children. The United King- dom has implemented regulations providing a voluntary duty to report domestic abuse if a veterinarian has a reasonable suspicion or observation of ani- mal abuse and knows that a woman or child resides in the suspect- ed abuser's household. Immunity is provided to the veterinarian under such circum- stances. This regulation takes the research seri- ously and says the link is so strong between animal and domestic abuse that a veterinarian can (but doesn't have to) act in such cases. It will be a long time, if ever, before the U.K. makes this man- datory or before American states make it voluntary or mandatory. But be sure that victim advocates will continue to pressure profes- sionals to call out abusers so that authorities might take action. The veterinary profession in many states will face a difficult choice on how to respond. Politics & Policy columnist Mark Cushing, founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, is a political strategist, lobbyist and former litigator. He serves on the Today's Veterinary Business editorial advisory board. Only 28 states offer immunity, so there is no excuse for the other 22 states not to recognize the inherent fairness and strong public policy argument for granting immunity as well. Next Easiest: 15 states Much More Difficult: 9 states

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