The Kentucky legislature is considering a measure that would require veterinarians to report instances of animal cruelty to law enforcement authorities. Under current law, veterinarians in Kentucky are forbidden to report animal cruelty without the express permission of the animal’s owner or unless a court orders the disclosure.
Introduced earlier this month by Kentucky State Senators C.B. Embry Jr. (R-06) and Morgan McGarvey (D-19), the measure amends Kentucky Revised Statute Chapter 321 to require reporting and, if passed, would make veterinarians immune from civil litigation resulting from the disclosure, as long as they make the report in good faith.
In the past, some veterinarians have opposed legislation that would require them to report instances of animal cruelty on grounds that it would violate veterinarian/client confidentiality and jeopardize their ability to retain existing clients or attract new ones.
Even so, Kathleen Wood, staff attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), said 19 states currently require veterinarians to report animal cruelty.
“Seventeen of the mandatory states do so explicitly by statute,” Wood said.
Among them is West Virginia, said Tinia Creamer, president and founder of the Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, in Shoals.“Mandatory reporting is vital to successfully combating animal neglect.” she said.
West Virginia-based veterinarian Clara Mason, DVM, agrees. “We have saved thousands of horses,” she said. “But we always begin with education.”
Mason, who is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Animal Welfare Committee, said clients sometimes do not know how to best look after their horses. As a result, veterinarians often teach good horse-keeping technique to avoid reporting animal cruelty altogether.
“I recently had a call from a client about a pregnant mare, but when I got to the farm, I found that all 16 of the horses there had body scores of 2 or 3 (on the 1-to-9 Henneke scale),” she said. “There was hay available to the horses, but it was not good-quality—the client’s intentions were good, I just had to teach them about how to better take care of the horses.”
When veterinarians do report animal cruelty, it is critical they feel protected under the law, said De Ette Hillman, equine programs director for Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Maryland.
“In the current climate and given the challenges that the large animal/livestock veterinary field faces, anything that protects (veterinarians) from public scrutiny and loss of livelihood, in our opinion, are positive steps and supportive of a profession that is incredibly demanding and also plagued with excessive stress, overwhelming debts, and high suicide rates,” she said.
SB21 remains pending in the Kentucky Legislature.