The Veterinarian’s Role in Small
Animal Cruelty
Presented by
Shirene Cece DVM
Michigan Humane Society
Detroit Center for Animal Care
7401 Chrysler Drive
Detroit, Michigan
• "Anyone who has accustomed himself to
regard the life of any living creature as
worthless is in danger of arriving also at the
idea of worthless human lives."
• - Albert Schweitzer, Humanitarian
• cru·el
ˈkru əl/ Pronunciation Key - Show
Spelled Pronunciation[kroo-uh l]
Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
• –adjective, -er, -est. 1.willfully or knowingly
causing pain or distress to others.
State Cruelty Laws Vary
• New York-” A person is guilty of aggravated
cruelty to animals when with no justifiable
purpose, he or she intentionally kill or
intentionally causes serious physical injury to
a companion animal with aggravated cruelty (
conduct which is intended to cause extreme
physical pain or is carried out in an especially
depraved or sadistic manner)
Michigan’s cruelty laws
[A] … person having the charge or custody
of an animal shall not do any of the following: (a)
Fail to provide an animal with adequate care. (b)
Cruelly drive, work, or beat an animal, or cause
an animal to be cruelly driven, worked, or beaten.
(c) Carry or cause to be carried in or upon a
vehicle or otherwise any live animal having the
feet or legs tied together…. (d) Carry or cause to
be carried a live animal in or upon a vehicle or
otherwise without providing a secure space, rack,
car, crate, or cage….
Michigan’s Cruelty Laws
(e) Abandon an animal or
cause an animal to be abandoned … without
making provisions for the animal’s adequate
care…. (f) Willfully or negligently allow any animal
… to suffer unnecessary neglect, torture, or
pain. (g) Tether a dog unless the tether is at least
3 times the length of the dog as measured from
the tip of its nose to the base of its tail and is
attached to a harness or non-choke collar
designed for tethering
It is important for veterinarians to be familiar with their state
Voluntary reporting of cases
Interactive map of cruelty cases
Search for current cruelty cases which give an
accused, outcome and location
Why worry about Cruelty?
• Views regarding animal cruelty are changing;
people are becoming more award of cruelty
through the media
• Some states have mandatory reporting
• It is the ethical duty of the veterinarian
• There is a link between animal cruelty and
human violence
Animal Cruelty and human violence
• “Animal cruelty can be linked to the vast
majority of serial killers, many habitual
offenders, and most children and teens who
kill” Joshua K. Marquis District Attorney
(Oregon) Vice President NDAA
Examples of the link
• School shootings 1997-2001
MS,KY,AK,OR,GA,CA all these boys performed
acts of cruelty on animals such as shooting
dogs, burning cats, blowing up cows
• Boston Strangler killed 13 women, shot arrows
into dogs and cats as a boy
• Ted Bundy killed 30 women, as a boy tortured
Examples of the link
• Jeffery Dahmer killed 17 people, as a boy he
killed and impaled the heads of dogs and cats
on sticks
• Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer Wichita KS,
practiced killing animals before killing 10
Facts about Animal Abuse and
Domestic Violence
American Humane
• 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s
shelters reported that their batterer had
injured, maimed , killed or threatened family
pets for revenge or to psychologically control
victims; 32% reported their children had hurt
or killed animals
• Abusers kill, harm , or threaten children’s pets
to coerce them into sexual abuse or to force
them to remain silent about abuse. Disturbed
children kill or harm animals to emulate their
parents’ conduct, to prevent the abuser from
killing the pet, or to take out their aggressions
on another victim.
• Investigation of animal abuse is often the first
point of social services intervention for a
family in trouble
animal abusers were twice as likely to commit a
violent offense such as assault or possession of a
SOURCES: Becker, K. Journal of the American Academy
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, July 2004;
• Supervisory Special agent Allen Brantley of the
FBI was quoted as saying “Animal cruelty …is
not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy
individual; this is a warning sign…”
Animal Abuse and Human Violence
Randall Lockwood
• Lecture given in 2001 at the World Small
Animal Veterinary Association World Congress
in Vancouver
• Landau (1999) surveyed the deans of 31
American and Canadian schools of veterinary
• 97% agreed that veterinarians would
encounter instances of intentional animal
• 63% agreed that veterinary professionals would
encounter cases of animal cruelty associated with
family violence
• 17% of deans reported that students are explicitly
made aware of policies on responding to suspected
• The average veterinary curriculum spends only 8
minutes on the issue of animal cruelty and human
• Many veterinary students feel that the issue is
inadequately addressed in their training
• Sharpe(1999) survey of small animal
practitioners estimated that the average
practitioner saw 5.6 cases of animal abuse per
1,000 patients
• rural., urban or suburban
• Only 8% of respondents felt that they had
received adequate training in general abuse
• No widely agreed upon standard for
identifying an injury or condition in a
veterinary patient as being the result of
intentional abuse or extreme neglect (this is
changing as evidenced by the new textbooks
and on veterinary forensics)
• Veterinarians seem reluctant to believe that a
client that who intentionally harmed an
animal would seek medical attention
• Fear for safety, losing a client, reputation in
the community, possible litigation
Other Veterinary Concerns
• Does the veterinarian feel confident regarding
his/her ability to recognize cruelty?
• Does the veterinarian feel confident to write
medicals, and perform necropsies?
• Does the veterinarian feel confident to testify
in court?
• “One of the most dangerous things that can
happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal
and get away with it”
Margaret Mead
Reporting Animal Cruelty
• Eleven states have laws that require veterinary
reporting of cruelty and animal fighting
• Five states’ practice acts require that a
veterinarian report animal cruelty and animal
• Michigan has no law that requires reporting
animal cruelty
Reporting Animal Cruelty
• AVMA states that the veterinarian has an
ethical duty to report cases of animal cruelty
and animal fighting
• Veterinarians in Michigan are protected from
violating the confidentiality of a client if they
report animal abuse or neglect by the
confidentiality statute.
Roles that veterinarians may take in
cruelty investigations
Interpret lab test
Answer the question “Is it cruelty?”
Perform necropsy
Perform examination and write medical
Testify in court
Visit locations
Veterinary roles con’t
Examination of a crime scene
Maintain the chain of custody of evidence
Advise on the care of any survivors
May provide medical care and housing for survivors
Advise the investigator and prosecutor
May do media interviews
Provide euthanasia for severely injured victims
Private veterinarian that may suspect abuse
May be a client that is involved
May be neighbor
May be a stranger
Reluctance to be complainant
Affect on practice; possible negative media
What about personal safety
What time commitment is involved
What financial commitment
Concern about client confidentiality
Is there immunity from liability?
Is it easier just to look the other way?
Is it cruelty?
• Disease emaciation vs. starvation
• Breed of dog or large animal variations in
body score
• Length of time of disease or trauma induced
Animal risk factors
• Cats and dogs under 2 years of age
• Pit bulls and related breeds
• Male dogs more than females
Risk factors for NAI
Munro and Thrusfield (2001)
Vague explanation for injuries
Unable to explain injuries
Different stories, stories change
Multiple fractures of different ages in the same
• Multiple animals in the household injured
• Repetitive history of accidents/deaths
• Personal awareness of violence in the household
British Vet Pharmaceutical firm
Intervet UK (2003)
Conditions suggestive of animal abuse
Poor physical condition
Absence of food
Collar too tight
Lack of medical care
Excessive matting
Parasitic infestation
Lack of sanitation, presence or urine, feces
Presence of dead animals
Inadequate ventilation and lighting
Excessive numbers of animals, overcrowding
Signs suggestive of animal abuse
• Owner lives in isolation
• Physical injuries to animals such as bruising,
fractures, repetitive injuries, lesions, burns, gunshot
wounds, malnourishment, untreated diseases,
drowning, asphyxiation, evidence of animal fighting,
bestiality or ritualistic sacrifice
• Owner unable to afford food both for themselves and
their animals
• Owner unable or unwilling to tell how many animals
he/she has
Interpreting tests
Blood tests
Drugs or other objects found at the location
• May give clues to cause of death
• May give clues to time of death
• May help answer the question of whether or
not it is a cruelty case.
Medical exams
Consistent form
Identify the animal
Pictures are “worth a thousand words”
Photographs identify the victim and document
the victim’s physical condition
Testify in Court
• Why Veterinarians may be reluctant to testify
– Court can be intimidating
– Fear of the unknown
– Fear of reprisal
– Good preparation helpful
• Payment for testifying
Visiting locations
• Stables and barns
• Collectors
Veterinarians involved in cases
• Private veterinarians
• Shelter veterinarians
• University pathologist
Aiding the Investigators
• Exam the animal early in the investigation
• Attempt to determine length of time
• Use language that the investigator
• Communicate both with the investigator and
the prosecutor
• Offer referral to pathologist
Cruelty case categories
Starvation/ emaciation
Traumatic injuries
Lack of medical treatment
Unsuitable living conditions
Dog fighting/ cock fighting
Inadequate food and water
Inadequate food and water or poor
body weight
• Can be the result of an insufficient quantity of
• Can be the result of an insufficient quality of
• Can be the result of a medical condition
• What is the current weight of the dog?
• What should a dog of that breed age and size
• What percentage is the dog underweight?
• Are skeletal bones prominent?
• Does the dog show muscle atrophy?
Starvation/emaciation con’t
• Is the dog weak or showing any other physical
abnormalities due to its lack of weight?
• Does the dog have internal parasites?
• Does the dog have other abnormalities not
related to its lack of weight?
• Opinion as to cause of low weight
Starvation/emaciation con’t
• Approximately how long would it take for a
dog to get to this state if started from a
normal weight?
• Use a consistent scale such as the Tuft’s
Animal Care and Condition scale (TACC)
Inadequate Food and Water or Low
Body Weight
• If the animal is deceased and underweight do
no assume that it died because nobody fed it
– Request a necropsy ask the veterinarian to
check for;
-internal body fat
-food in the stomach
-contents of the bowel and intestines
Follow up Medicals
• Usually done after 3 weeks or until a certain
percentage of weight is gained
• How much weight has been gained and in
what time frame
• Have other abnormalities improved?
• Does the dog have the normal ability to gain
Traumatic Injuries
Gunshot wounds
Embedded collars
Blunt trauma
Throwing animal
Traumatic Injury Medicals
• Description of the wound including location,
size and depth
• Length of time the wound has been present
• Cause of the injury if possible
• Did the injury cause suffering?
• Was the injury evident?
Embedded Collars
• Take photos with the collar and without the
collar off
• Note any odors associated with the injury
• Describe the injury as you first saw it
Follow up Medical
• Description of the injury now
• Has the wound/injury improved with proper
medical treatment?
Lack of medical attention
Lack of Medical
• Describe the medical condition
• Estimate the length of time the condition has
been present
• If describing a traumatic injury, what is its
most likely cause
• Did the medical condition cause suffering?
Lack of Medical con’t
• Is the medical problem evident to a lay
• In the veterinarian’s opinion, was there any
evidence that medical treatment was given?
Lack of Medical Follow up Medical
• Describe the medical problem now
• Has the medical problem improved with
proper treatment?
Unsuitable Living Conditions
Unsanitary conditions
Inadequate shelter
Stressful conditions such as overcrowding
Tethering improperly
Unsuitable Living Conditions
• Describe the conditions
• Estimate how long these conditions have been
• What physical or psychological problems have
or could result from these conditions
• Are the animals suffering?
Follow up Medical Unsuitable Living
• What are the conditions now?
• If the conditions have improved or the animals
have been removed, are their physical and /or
psychological conditions improved?
Dog Fighting
• Describe the dogs and identify breed
• Are the breeds a known fighting breed
• Describe any wounds found on the dogs and
give opinion as to cause
• Evaluate the temperament of the dog
especially as it relates to dog to dog
Animal Hoarding
• More than the typical number of companion animals
• Inability to provide even minimal standards of
nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care,
with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness,
and death
• Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care
and the impact of that failure on the animals, the
household, and human occupants of the dwelling
Veterinarians may know the hoarders
• As clients
• As staff members or volunteers
• As colleagues (HARC is aware of at least 5 full-blown
hoarding cases involving veterinarians in active
clinical practice)
• Through their associations with rescue groups and
• Through law enforcement when asked to evaluate
• As a participant in a rescue or rehabilitation effort
Signs of animal hoarding
Keystone Veterinarian by Anne Irwin
• constantly changing parade of pets, most seen once and not
• • visits for problems not usually seen in good preventive
health care like trauma or infectious disease
• • rarely see the same animal for diseases of old age like
cancer or heart disease
• • may travel great distances to the practice, come at odd
hours and use multiple vets so as not to tip them off about
the number of animals
• • may seek heroic and futile care for animals they have
recently found
• being unwilling or unable to say how many animals they have
• Severe matting
• Psychological cruelty
• Maggot infestation
The future of animal cruelty
• Dr. Melinda Merck, the nation’s premier
forensic veterinarian and animal CSI, at the
wheel, the vehicle will be available to travel to
assist national and local law enforcement in
their efforts to build cases against and
prosecute animal cruelty offenders:
Veterinary Forensics Seminar
• 1st Annual held in Florida Spring 2008
• Veterinarians from around the world
• Information on various forensics subjects
including entomology, blood spatters, stains,
botanical evidence, gunshot wounds,
clandestine grave site analysis
• Now a yearly seminar and organized group of
forensic veterinarians that can share
• University of Florida announced today that
they are partnering with the American Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to
form the first Veterinary Forensic Sciences
Program dedicated to the teaching, research
and application of forensic science in the
investigation and prosecution of crimes
against animals. The program will handle
cases from around the country — possibly up
to 200 within the first two years — and
provide consultancy and training (2009)
• The University of Florida is home to the new
ASPCA Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program
and Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at
the College of Veterinary Medicine. Together,
these programs are advancing the science of
cruelty investigation and emphasizing the vital
role of the veterinarian and first responders in
making successful cases.
Veterinary roles
• Participate in community response teams
• Provide medical care for abused pets
• Provide educational support for at risk youths
and convicted animal abusers
• Be an expert witness
• Assist shelters and ACO’s with investigations
• Cross train to help humane and human
services better recognize animal abuse
Veterinary roles con’t
• Alert staff to be aware of family violence signs
and provide appropriate resource materials
• discuss welfare concerns with clients
• refer cases of abuse to appropriate
Mahatma Gandhi
• “the greatness of a nation and its moral
progress can be judged by the way it treats it
Embedded Collars
• Take photos with the collar and without the
collar off
• Note any odors associated with the injury
• Describe the injury as you first saw it

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