"But They Said They Were Sorry": Veterinarians' Reasons for Not Reporting Animal Abuse
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2005
Carol Morgan, Doctoral Candidate/DVM
Individual Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, The University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Research indicates that veterinarians believe they have an ethical obligation to report animal abuse[1], yet controversy over mandating abuse reporting continues[1,2]. The discrepancy between perceived moral obligation and moral action has important implications for the protection of animals and policy development regarding reporting.

To understand how veterinarians make decisions relating to the ethical treatment of animals, 48 veterinarians engaged in private practice in Western Canada were interviewed. Although not directly questioned about animal abuse, participants frequently expressed concerns regarding their experiences with abuse. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and data were managed with NRS Q6 (non-numerical data software).

Reasons cited for failing to report animal abuse included uncertainty over the cause of injury (abuse or accident?), uncertainty relating to defining abuse (abuse or sub-optimal care?), frustration with enforcement agencies, and personal concerns. These findings concur with factors identified in other studies[1-3]. Notably however, veterinarians cited client contrition as a reason not to report abuse, viewing clients who expressed remorse more favourably than those who did not. Thus, client contrition reduced the likelihood that veterinarians would report abuse. As veterinarians generally lack training in psychology and criminology, they may lack the skills required to make assessments regarding their clients' abilities or desires to improve the care of an animal.

The need for veterinary education regarding abuse recognition and the legal mechanisms surrounding abuse reporting are documented and discussed elsewhere[1-3]. However, the ability of veterinarians to assess their clients' abilities or intentions in animal abuse cases, and the appropriateness of veterinarians making this type of assessment warrants further attention.


1.  Donley, L., et al. Animal Abuse in Massachusetts: a summary of case reports at the MSPCA and attitudes of Massachusetts veterinarians. J of Appl Anim Welfare Sci 1999; 2: 59-73.

2.  Stolt, L.B., et al., Attitudes of veterinarians, animal control directors, and county prosecutors in Michigan regarding enforcement of state animal cruelty legislation. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1997;211: 1521-1523.

3.  Landau, R.E. A survey of teaching and implementation: The veterinarian's role in recognizing and reporting abuse. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1999; 215:328-330.

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Carol Morgan, Doctoral Candidate/DVM

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