Webinar presenter Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore answered a number of your questions after her presentation, “Working with Your Vet to Document Animal Maltreatment.” Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: How would you address the fact that some of the vets are concerned that testifying in an animal cruelty case might cost them some of their client base? They’ve run into this for large animal practice vets who depend on the farming community for repeat business.
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: That’s a very real concern that gets back to the economics of being a veterinarian. It may take, if you have the option of working with different veterinarians in your community, it may take moving into a different practice or a different veterinary, moving maybe a little bit further afield from your direct community. That can be a challenge. It’s kind of understandable. I would hope that veterinarians would stand up for their patients before they stood up for their clients and that they would stand up for what’s right. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. It’s tough. We’re not there yet is what I would say. Appealing to their public health sensibility and what’s going to help us produce healthy food is good welfare and not breaking the law.
Audience Question: Can you repeat the websites for some of those forms I know that you mentioned?
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: Yes, Dr. Melinda Merck is veterinaryforensics.com and that’s all one word. The ASPCA is aspcapro.org all one word. If you just type in your search bar forensics or forms or veterinary forms, it’ll pop up for you. As I said, we’re going to PDF and get it out to you folks. You’ll have it on from where it was on my slide.
Audience Question: Do you think always have to draw labs? How expensive? Do you always check for the heartworm and fecal for dogs? And how exhaustive should the labwork be?
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: It depends on the case. It depends on the agency’s resources. In the ideal situation, anything that you would do to get the general health background on an animal would be great. Sure we could spend tens of thousands of dollars chasing down every immune marker and every toxin out there. That’s just not practical. In some cases where you have a pretty straightforward failure to provide adequate nutrition and the animal is thin. If the agency doesn’t have money to do labwork you got a young animal that has a good appetite, you don’t have to run the blood work. Feeding is going to be the proof in the pudding. You feed that animal, it’s going to put on condition, it’s going to put on weight. It’s going to thrive. I’ve had a few cases where the owner claimed cancer and I cured cancer with Purina. You can do that approach as well. It just depends on the case.
Audience Question: North Carolina law protects veterinarian who reports animal cruelty but few call us when presented with the same? What can we do to help them feel more secure and safe when reporting these kinds of cases?
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: State by state, the mandatory reporting laws differ. In some states, veterinarians are mandated to report suspected cases of animal cruelties. in other states, they do have immunity for good faith reporting. They are not mandated to report but they are protected if they report even if they made the wrong assumption or had the wrong opinion. I didn’t quite understand the question so can you repeat that?
Audience Question: It seems to me like they’re just wondering what they might be able to do in terms of working with their communities to make citizens more comfortable reporting suspected animal abuse.
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: Yeah there’s like generalized anxiety out there where people are fearful. They’re fearful of the bullies in the community. They’re afraid they are going to get stalked? They’re afraid they are going to get harassed. They’re afraid they are going to get hurt. This is something I’ve seen in a veterinary community where there’s some neuroticism about getting involved and just a fear of being a target. I know that because I kind of I kind of have to work through that myself as I gained more investigational courage and prosecutorial courage. I think we need to work on reporting and courage. When people see something that’s wrong that they have the courage to report it. I think, to some degree, we can look to child abuse efforts and domestic violence abuse efforts and see how they have faced the same challenges and gotten the community to be stronger and more sure about we have to do the right thing and the right thing is protecting vulnerables.
Audience Question: We have a huge time barrier for taking photos and have considered during our initial and final assessment on video. Are videos acceptable? Is that something that you would recommend?
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: Videos are acceptable. You won’t get the same detail in pixel count as you would in the clarity of your images. A video is still not going to be as good as a digital image still. Maybe it would reduce the number of pictures that you had to take. Just a big word of caution is you’ve got to make sure that you can mute the microphone on your camera because the incidental noises that can be heard down the hall or outside the room or even in the room can be extraordinarily distracting and lead to a sense of a lack of professionalism. If you are going to do video, keep it quiet. Keep it silent not quiet because quiet’s never good enough. Just like the video, I made of my pus leaking uterus and my MedTech is spontaneously wretching on the video. It wasn’t expected and there it is.
Audience Question: Can you recommend an expert in treating animal hoarding? She’s in Ohio, some animal law attorneys want to propose a bill about hoarding. They do not want to punish the person who has emotional problems… Do you have any suggestions for experts in animal hoarding?
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: I do. Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University has a website or part of their website is called Hoarding Animals Research Consortium, HARC. You have to go to the Tufts website and search using those words Hoarding Animals Research Consortium. There’s a lot of information out there. With regards to the prosecution that hesitates to prosecute that causes- again, it’s that prosecutorial courage. The recidivism rate for animal hoarding is just so horrifically high that unless you prosecute, unless you get court-mandated intervention, you are not going to stop the problem, and the amount of animal suffering is going to increase exponentially. I want to give a plug for something else here. the same veterinarian that headed up the hoarding animals research consortium, Dr. Gary Patronek, has authored a textbook with two psychiatrists called Animal Maltreatment and Forensic Animal Maltreatment Evaluation Systems or something like that. He is working with a psychiatrist to start understanding how do we do mental health evaluation on offenders who are hurting animals whether intentional or non-intentional. I think that book will be very very helpful for your prosecutors. Animal maltreatment from Oxford University Press. I think it came out in 2017. That’s also a very good resource. Dr. Patronek will be a very good resource. I don’t know if he is working out there as a hands-on expert. I think he’s more of an intellect. He thinks really really well. Definitely worth reading his materials.
Audience Question: Is there value in getting a snapshot of that report without the ability to do diagnostics due to the costs?
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: Absolutely. Something’s better than nothing. There are some in-house things that can be done. A veterinarian can make a blood smear without sending it to the vet practice. It can get a total of pack cell (indiscernible) there are little tests that can be done. Tableside in the vet exam room that can provide you with some really really important information. Even if you can only get the vet exam on, it’s way better than not having a vet involved, in my opinion, as long as the vet has the right mindset and is willing to work with you appropriately.
Audience Question: How do I help the vet to understand that obtaining the search warrant is not predictable and I cannot set an appointment to present seize the animals? I’ve tried to give them as much advance notices as possible but we are very dependent on our judges’ schedules, patrol staffing models, etc.
Dr. Martha Smith Blackmore: That’s a tough one. I don’t know where you are or what resources are available in your community. Maybe working with, oh boy, I was going to say a 24-hour practice but that doesn’t help you because you need to name a particular vet. I guess it’s time to have that lunch and learn and maybe invite a judge especially if you have a magistrate that’s most frequently the one that’s being petitioned. If you can get them to come together and maybe get some understanding of the different pressures each side is facing and you’re just the middle man in that circumstance or the middle person, that might help. The stuff is really unpredictable. it doesn’t matter what time you start with your petition. Your search warrant is going to be issued until after the dark. It’s just the law of the land. It’s the way it goes.