Forensic Behavioural Analysis: Applying the FEASAC Framework in Legal Cases of Animal Cruelty and Neglect
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019
R. Ledger
Animal Behaviour and Welfare Consulting, Animal Cruelty Behavioural Forensics, Vancouver, BC, Canada

FEASAC (Framework for the Evidence-based Assessment of Suffering in Animal Cruelty) was developed in 2014 and has been successfully applied in animal cruelty investigations across Canada. The framework describes a sequence of eight questions, that allows for the preparation of expert opinions regarding the nature, severity and necessity of animal suffering. The questions allow for the evidence, which is often circumstantial, to be presented in a way that allows the courts to decide whether a person accused of animal cruelty is guilty of an offence.

1.  Can the animal experience aversive events that could cause it to suffer?
If the animal is sentient and was/is conscious when ill-treated, the answer may be “Yes”. The ability of an animal to experience various negative effects will vary between individuals, according to species, age, previous experience, and personality.

2.  Does current legislation recognize suffering or equivalent negative welfare states in animals? The precise wording of national or regional laws or regulations in relation to the up-to-date understanding of suffering and related matters should indicate what would be credible grounds for a prosecution in each location. Expert opinions need to be framed with this in mind. It should be noted that applying this framework is not contingent on animals being defined as ‘sentient’ within the legislation, as by definition, suffering already identifies that the animal is sentient.

3.  Were conditions present that would cause the animal to suffer?
Systematic evaluation of circumstances related to the nutritional, environmental, health, and behavioural domains of the Five Domains will assist here. It is helpful to use a checklist for recording factual information about each domain.

4.  Which affective state(s) would the animal likely experience?
Reference to the Five Domains model helps when answering this question.

5.  Is there physical and/or behavioural evidence that the animal did suffer or is suffering?
This may be evaluated by direct observation of the animal supported by careful interpretation of other specific elements of the evidence including the animal’s precise circumstances, during and/or following the abusive or neglectful act. Use of detailed checklists such as those mentioned above would be helpful.
It is important to carefully consider possible alternative explanations for the occurrence of the observed physical and behavioural responses of the animal in the circumstances under review. For example, in the case of an animal that shows physiological and/or behavioural signs of fear, causes other than the circumstances imposed by the accused should also be considered.

6.  How severe and protracted was or is the suffering?
This may be evaluated qualitatively by carefully interpreting the circumstances and the physical and/or behavioural evidence, guided by using the Five Domain model’s 5-tier negative impact scale.

7.  Could the suffering have been avoided? Was it necessary?
This refers to situations where there might have been reason to believe that the negative impacts were justified. Subsidiary questions that help to clarify these points are the following: Was a more humane option available? Could the overall benefit to the animal justify the negative impact of what was done?

8.  Was the suffering inflicted willfully or recklessly?
This question helps to distinguish purposeful cruelty from indifferent disregard, ignorance, and naïveté, e.g., situations where the alleged perpetrator might not have anticipated the negative welfare impacts, or the possibility that they could occur.


Speaker Information
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R. Ledger
Animal Behaviour & Welfare Consulting
Animal Cruelty Behavioural Forensics
Vancouver, BC, Canada

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