Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives
This appendix is not about doing a dog bath fund raiser for the local humane society, or a pet walk for cancer, although those are great image builders in a community. It is not about joining the HAB movements or human organizations, although those environments will raise your awareness of community issues. Also, for the records, I am not an extremist, I am not a bleeding heart, and I am not a passing not-for-profit consultant. As a veterinarian, I have been doing animal abuse and neglect interactions with law enforcement agencies around the world for over thirty years. I am a charter member of both the Delta Society and the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians; I was also a Board member of Vet One (industry-veterinarian HAB group). I sincerely believe that the term "animal rights" is a forensic term, not nature's way. If it was nature's way, we could put a coyote and rabbit in a ten-by-ten room for an hour and half the time the rabbit would come out picking its teeth; that is not the way of life.
The Rights of Animals
Care of Animals
(Title 9, CH 1, Sec 2.131)
The animal should not show: trauma, stress, overheating, excessive cooling, behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort.
Deprivation of food or water shall not be used to train, work, or otherwise handle animals. Animals will receive full dietary and nutritional requirements each day.
An animal shall not be subjected to any combination of temperature, humidity, and time that is detrimental to the animal's health or well-being. Animal rights are an essential element of civilized society, but they are the laws of a community, not nature. The original Animal Welfare Act was written to protect animals at draft, and was soon applied to the sweat shops abusing children. The actual implementation provisions are updated annually in Chapter 1, Title 9, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and should be in every veterinary practice library as an operational resource. While these regulations are legally written for animals on display and animals during interstate movement, they provide the minimum essential husbandry requirements for most common species.
As a veterinarian, we each know what is normal, and what is abnormal. We usually know what is caused by disease and what is caused by husbandry. We have the ability to act as professionals in animal neglect because we know normal. An animal that is not normal has been neglected, sometimes covertly and other times overtly, but neglect is simply,"That animal is not being treated right." The proof of abuse requires an intent, which is the role of investigators, not the veterinarian. What is important to remember is that there was a 95 percent correlation between animal abuse and child abuse (UK research, Delta Society proceedings) and to allow an animal case to go unreported is to put some child in potential jeopardy!
Talking to the Client
Humane Handling, Care, Treatment of Dogs and Cats
Title 9, CFR, CH1, Part 3, Subpart A (extracted elements)
Dogs and cats must be provided adequate shelter from the elements at all times to protect their health and well-being. Housing must be designed and constructed so they are structurally sound, kept in good repair, made of materials that are readily cleaned and sanitized, and protect the animal from injury, contain the animal(s) securely, and restrict other animals from entering.
Cleaning - hard surfaces must be spot-cleaned daily and sanitized, and floors must be spot-cleaned with sufficient frequency to ensure all the freedom to avoid contact with excreta.
Ambient temperatures in the facility, or traveling housing, must not drop below 50°F for dogs and cats not acclimated to lower temperatures, nor rise above 85°F, for more than 4 consecutive hours, except as approved by a veterinarian.
Cats over 4.4 kg (8.8 lbs.) must be provided with at least 4.0 ft 2 (exclusive of food or water pans), and be at least 24 inches high. No more than 12 cats are allowed in a single primary enclosure.
Each dog must be provided with floor space calculated at least as: mathematical square of the sum of the length of the dog in inches (measured from base of tail to tip of nose) plus 6 inches, then divided by 144 to get square feet, with a height 6 inches higher than the head of the tallest dog in the facility, when in a standing position. No more than 12 dogs are allowed in a single primary enclosure.
Dogs and cats must be fed at least once daily; food must be uncontaminated, wholesome, palatable, and of sufficient quantity and nutritive value to maintain the normal condition and weight of the animal. If potable water is not continually available, it must be offered not less than twice a day for at least one hour each time.
An effective program for control of insects and external parasites must be established and maintained as to promote the health and well-being of the animals and reduce contamination by pests (includes other birds or mammals). The extracts from Title 9, Code of Federal Regulations, are just that: extracts. They allow any veterinary healthcare professional a baseline to use their professional opinion with confidence. Legally, Title 9, CFR, applies to animals on display, those undergoing interstate shipment, or critters used in research; they are extensive and have provisions for most species, although I have extracted only a few of the cat and dog provisions for the illustrations. When the Animal Welfare Act, a Federal Law, is annually translated into the CFR, many "common sense" elements are defined, which provides law enforcement officials, kennel staff, humane organizations, and animal owners a degree of confidence when listening to a veterinary healthcare professional's opinion on animal neglect or abuse.
It is important to understand that while over 85 percent of companion animals are considered family members, the law provides that animals are considered "owned property." The real challenge lies in the simple fact that people learn pet ownership from the same people who were their parents, and the famous quote is, "When I have kids, I am not raising them the way I was raised!" Most parents do not understand how to be stewards of other living beings; they learned from their parents, who were likely taught by first generation "off-the-farm folk." Barn cats and farm dogs were not companion animals, just like the farm horse was not a pleasure horse. Farm dogs got onto the back porch long before barn cats got into the kitchen, but in many rural communities, the barriers to companion animals still exist. If veterinarians do not accept the role of community educator, the animals will suffer.
The political movement to make animal owners legally defined as "guardians" or "stewards" of companion animals, has some covert support due to the sequential impacts . guardians/stewards fall under many existing child welfare laws, and well-meaning advocates can have the children removed from the care of the biological parents, or in other cases, by some socio-pathologic people wanting to "do better" for the those without advocates built in their image.
PETA® would love to define pet care standards for all pet owners, and if GUARDIAN was enacted, they could spend their not-for-profit donated money in the courts to get just this power over animal owners.
Veterinarians and veterinary staff probably agree with 90 percent plus of the radical animal welfare advocates, but it is the last ten percent that carries with it the supporters BEWARE clause of common sense. How does a veterinary healthcare delivery team approach a client who has been neglecting their dog, cat, or horse? It should start with a simple, non-threatening question, and then sincere listening. A sample question could be, "Do you know there are vaccinations to prevent the barn cat die offs?" It could be, "Do you know we can level that horses teeth and make winter grazing on feed much more effective?" Or it could even be, "Do you know that the current heartworm medications will also prevent many internal parasites that can be transmitted to kids and cause an abdominal flu like syndrome?" If the veterinarian is assisting local law enforcement officials evaluating a complaint, these questions are not indicated; the legal procedures take precedence during the enforcement process.
I have seen animals chained with logging chains, unable to reach water. I have seen animals with hoofs in a full ram's horn curl. I have seen animals with choke chains imbedded in their necks. In each of these cases, the animal owner was basically unaware of the inhumane situation; since their folks had done it, they assumed it was just the way it was. Questions I like to ask take it one step farther, such as: "Would you like to learn about a pet food that would make the litter box smell less?"; "Do you know we can restore these hoofs so it does not hurt to walk?"; "Would you like to help your pet live a longer life?" or even, "If we can give your pet good breath, would you like puppy kisses back?" The animal owners who care will ask for more information if the accusations are not personal, if the evaluation comments are based on the environment rather than the personalities, and if the neglect is handled as a lack of education rather than a personal shortcoming.
The Most Difficult of Situations
In the worse case scenario, the animal owner does not care. This is the person who should not have animals, and if the veterinary professional supports the local law enforcement agency, the problem can be addressed. In most every case, a law enforcement official will ask for veterinary assistance when assessing abuse or neglect complaints and the professional steps should then include:
Step one - identify animal neglect in a fair and consistent manner (use Title 9, CFR, and your professional training).
Step two - be available for education of law enforcement officials, schools, new pet owners, and people involved in the neglect cases.
Step three - in the worse case scenario, "neglect" can be elevated to "abuse" when ignorance is replaced by someone attempting willful harm to an animal. In this case, the veterinary healthcare provider must become an advocate for the animal, and accept no compromise in the health, well-being, or quality of life of another living entity.
Our education and experience makes us the experts in evaluating animal welfare; if a veterinarian abdicates this community responsibility, the animals suffer, the community suffers, and more importantly, the profession suffers. In life, there are only two basic roles, one of leader, and the other of follower. Leaders develop other people in their daily actions, and animal welfare is one area that makes us feel good when we can make a difference.