How should suspected cases of abuse be handled? - Veterinary Practice
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How should suspected cases of abuse be handled?

GUIDANCE will be issued shortly
for veterinary practitioners on what
they should do when they suspect
that the injuries on an animal may
have been caused deliberately, BVA
past president Dr Freda Scott-Park
told the congress.

Dr Scott-Park chairs the Links
group, an alliance of organisations
exploring the associations between
animal abuse, child abuse and other
forms of domestic violence.

The document will provide advice
to veterinary surgeons and nurses on
how to recognise possible incidents of
non-accidental injury and how to deal
with any suspect cases. It will highlight
the importance of seeking advice from
organisations like the RCVS and the
Veterinary Defence Society and include
guidance on sources of information
outside normal office hours.

Paula Boyden, deputy veterinary
director of Dogs Trust, emphasised
that appropriate action in such cases by
veterinary staff may have important
implications for human welfare.

Studies have shown that there is an
80% correlation between those
households known to the child
protection agencies and also to the
animal welfare inspectorates for
organisations like the RSPCA and

Useful indicators

If faced for the first time by a
suspicious looking injury, a practitioner
will find it difficult to believe it is a
result of deliberate cruelty, Ms Boyden

But there are some useful
diagnostic indicators – for example, if
the nature of the wound appears
inconsistent with the claimed history, if
there are discrepancies between the
stories given to veterinary staff, or if an
animal is presented with repeat injuries.

Ms Boyden noted that there was
controversy over the veterinary
surgeon’s responsibilities in this
situation. At this time, she felt it was
inappropriate to suggest that reporting
suspect cases should be mandatory, as
most practitioners have received no
specific training in this field. But she
was sure that reasonable suspicions
would release the practitioner from a
duty to preserve client confidentiality.

The Royal College advised
members that the need to protect the
public interest would override other
professional obligations.

However, veterinary staff must be
aware of the limits of their role in such
cases. They are not required to carry out further investigations or to act as
judge and jury, they were simply
obliged to make their concerns known
to the appropriate body.

She advised all small animal
practitioners to establish contacts with
their local welfare society inspector, as
an informal discussion might often be
all that was needed.

It would be wrong to assume that
cases of deliberate abuse will only
occur in pet animals. Ms Bowden
acknowledged that similar problems
could equally occur in farm or equine
practices. Although cruelty was often
associated with economic deprivation,
it could happen in any part of the
country and be perpetrated by
members of any social group.

‘Seek advice’

The RCVS junior vice-president, Dr
Jerry Davies, welcomed the imminent
launch of the Links group document.
He said it was important for any
veterinary practitioner or VN to seek
advice before making any allegation
against a client.

He pointed out that there could be
serious consequences for both sides in
the event of a wrongful allegation or

He noted the case of the Cheshire
solicitor Sally Clark, who was wrongly
accused of smothering her two baby
sons. Her conviction was overturned
after she had served three years in
prison but her life had been irreparably
damaged, he said.

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