Veterinarians may from time to time be faced with cases where an animal has suffered harm as defined in the Act. Cases may range from overt cruelty, for example where an animal has been deliberately or maliciously injured, to cases where an animal may be suffering through lack of or inadequate treatment provided by the animal’s owner, for example where an owner has failed to treat or euthanase an animal with a serious injury, such as a broken leg, or chooses for some reason not to proceed with treatment.
As a veterinarian you are responsible for giving the owner information about the animal welfare consequences of such decisions. If an animal suffers because of a decision (or lack of decision) by an owner who has been informed of the possible consequences, the owner is responsible.
In any such case where a veterinarian is concerned for an animal’s welfare the veterinarian is encouraged to report the matter to the RSPCA.
As part of enforcing the Act, general inspectors have the power to direct a person in charge of an animal to seek veterinary treatment for their animal.
In certain circumstances a general inspector also has power to seize an animal. A seized animal may be presented to a veterinarian for examination and treatment.
When examining, providing treatment and giving advice in relation to animals in these situations, it is important for the veterinarian to keep accurate and detailed contemporaneous clinical records and to provide clear and detailed written instructions. This will assist further enforcement actions if required in the event that a treatment plan or instructions are not followed.
Veterinarians are sometimes asked to provide expert opinion to a general inspector investigating a complaint under the Act and may be required to provide expert evidence in court in the event of a prosecution.
It is important to appreciate and acknowledge that an expert’s opinion must be independent and the duty of an expert is to assist a Court impartially on matters relevant to the expert’s area of expertise.
In order to assist veterinary surgeons who are asked to provide an expert opinion, the department has produced the Veterinarian's Guide to Animal Welfare Cases. This guide contains in-depth information on sample collection and submission, clinical examinations and preparing a surgeon’s report for court, as well as guidance on the court process more generally.