Webinar presenters Jessica Rock and Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Processing Evidence in Animal Crime Cases. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Can you repeat the name of that international association? I think it was iape.org, but I just wanted to be sure of that.
Martha Smith-Blackmore: Yes, it is. International Association of Property and Evidence and it’s a dot org.
Audience Question: For a veterinarian reporting possible animal cruelty via 911 do you have suggestions on how they might keep the animal there if it’s an office call with the owner present?
Martha Smith-Blackmore: Yes. That can be very tricky, and difficult. When you have these suspicions and you are considering making a report of your suspicions of animal cruelty, it can be emotional. The client may be getting frustrated if something is taking longer than they expect. So, it requires that we be both diplomatic and forthright when appropriate. So, there are times when you may want to say “I have some concerns about your animal and I’m going to be consulting with my colleague, I just need a little more time, and I thank you for your patience.” Or, in some circumstances, we may want to be very straightforward and say “do you have any reason to believe that your animal may have been hurt by someone intentionally?” This is something that, when I was a new veterinarian, I was trained not to ask, but we now have some evidence that people will come forward and admit they actually know who harmed their animal or even admit that they harm the animal themselves if they’re asked directly. But we have to, of course, be aware of our own safety and our staff’s safety first. So, sometimes you are going to want to avoid the topic and use a little bit of subterfuge to buy yourself some time. And if the people decide to take their animal and leave, so be it. That’s their prerogative and you shouldn’t put yourself in the place of stopping them, but if you can get a license plate on the car that could be helpful. Hopefully, you’ve got the information on the person who brought the animal to you so that the investigators can follow up.
Audience Question: What do we do when our shelter vet puts in their medical reports opinions and not just facts. Is that okay? And if it’s not, what can we do?
Jessica Rock: Doctor, you want to take that first?
Martha Smith-Blackmore: So, it is appropriate to express opinions, such as “this constellation of injuries is most consistent with non-accidental injury”, or “this injury is not consistent with a hit-by-car or a household dog-dog interaction”. Those are the appropriate types of opinions to write in the record. It is not appropriate for a veterinarian to say, “I think, the guy who dropped the dog off kicked him in the head”. It is important that we stay in our lane with our own specialty. So, it is appropriate to express an opinion if it’s based on science and evidence, but this opinion shouldn’t overreach.
Jessica Rock: I agree with that. And I would also just suggest that veterinarians stick with giving opinions based on the facts as they see them or the facts as they see them to be and the evidence that they are looking at. I don’t necessarily think it’s appropriate unless there is some type of discussion between the prosecutor and the law enforcement officer about the legal side of it. Sometimes I’ll have a veterinarian saying to me, well, this is not, I don’t think this is abuse, and then I’ll go back and ask them a host of questions about what they found, what they saw, what their report says, and it completely fits the statute under our law for something I would charge as abuse. So, sometimes, I think veterinarians confuse what may be abuse because they think abuse has to be intentional and certainly, under our law, there are ways of charging somebody criminally when it’s not an intentional act. If you fail to do an act, for example, or if you do an act or don’t do an act with knowing what the likelihood of the consequences of your actions is going to be, sometimes you can be charged criminally under the misdemeanor level. So, it’s just important for them to try to stay away from like a legal opinion and just give opinions based on their expertise, medically.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Processing Evidence in Animal Crime Cases.