Colorado Veterinarians Now Required to Report Suspected Abuse

Colorado veterinarians are now required to report suspected animal abuse or neglect, thanks to a state law that went into effect July 1. Supported by organized veterinary medicine, proponents say the statute is meant to encourage veterinarians to report suspected abuse, as well as protect them when they do.

"Our hope is the law will give the veterinarian who is uncertain about reporting that added nudge [to report]," noted Diane Balkin, senior deputy district attorney in Denver.

The new law provides vets who report suspected abuse in good faith with immunity from civil and criminal liability--a clause mirroring a portion of American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Model Veterinary Practice Act.

The law has "teeth" in the form of a $500 fine and possible six-month jail term for veterinarians who fail to report suspected abuse. However, Balkin said she doubts that authorities would be charging many vets with failure to report. The law is modeled on Colorado's child abuse statute and its "duty to report" clause, but only one physician has ever been charged, Balkin noted.

Armed with a survey that showed 80% of members supported the new law, the Colorado Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA) testified in support of the law to the state legislature.

"We did have concerns by some members, particularly in small rural communities, where, if they reported something, they were going to see that farmer or rancher at the diner or in the church pew," said Ralph Johnson, CVMA executive director. "This new law allows those veterinarians to say, 'I must do this. I must provide this information to authorities.' "

The law does not define abuse, but cross-references with the definition of abuse in the existing Colorado animal cruelty statute. Critics of the law pointed out that veterinarians do not receive formal training to recognize abuse, but Balkin contended that practitioners certainly know when to suspect abuse.

Proponents of the law worked with the Colorado Horse Council (CHC) to remove language from the original bill which, if strictly interpreted, might have prohibited euthanatizing a horse at a competition or race.

Other states that require a licensed veterinarian to report instances of animal abuse include Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wisconsin (specifically, animal fighting).

About the Author

Judith Lee

Judith Lee is a freelance health care writer who has written for a number of medical and health care journals and health care companies. As a long-time equestrian and horse owner, she has a particular interest in equine health care. She also operates an equestrian education program, Riding for Fun, geared toward adult beginners and returning riders.

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