The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Massachusetts Bill Requires Vets to Report Animal Cruelty

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Massachusetts Bill Requires Vets to Report Animal Cruelty

A Massachusetts bill requiring veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty to local law enforcement has been passed by that state's legislature.

The "Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) Act" requires veterinarians working in that state to notify local law enforcement authorities if they suspect that an animal is being maltreated. Any veterinarian who fails to report suspected animal cruelty will be reported to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Veterinary Medicine.

Michael E. Smith, legislative director for bill sponsor Massachusetts State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, said, like previous legislation, the bill protects veterinarians who report suspected animal cruelty from criminal or civil prosecution.

Susan Curtis, executive director of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, said her organization, along with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Massachusetts Animal Rescue League, have been involved with the bill since it was initially introduced in October 2013.

“We all support it,” Curtis said.

With the bill's passage, Massachusetts joins 29 other states in requiring veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty.

Clara Ann Mason, DVM, a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners' Leadership Committee and a frequent lecturer on equine welfare issues, applauded the Massachusetts statute, but said legislation alone cannot stem animal abuse.

That's because some veterinarians fail to report suspected animal abuse cases because they fear breaching client confidentiality, she said, while others do not report animal cruelty to agencies that sometimes fail to investigate those cases.

“We have a crucial disconnect in the middle between law enforcement and the prosecutors who bring these cases to trial,” Mason said. “In some cases law enforcement simply does not know when a horse is abused or has no place to keep the horses in seizure case) and if they do follow-up these cases fall into the laps of assistant prosecutors who are cutting their teeth on animal abuse cases.”

Instead, Mason believes veterinarians, legitimate shelter operators, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors must work together to be sure animal abusers are punished. She said she has visited shelters and prosecutors' officers to point out how these agencies might work with veterinarians to bring animal abusers to justice.

“I don't know how else to put it except that we have to educate people county by county about these cases and how we can work together,” Mason said.

Meanwhile, Mason believes that even if those convicted do not receive the strictest possible punishment for animal abuse, some progress is being made.

“We have some pretty good laws in place,” Mason said. “And every win is another step.”

The PAWS Act will take effect when Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signs it into law.


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