Improvement needed on animal cruelty identification

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Feb 01, 2011

National Report — A new study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says that only 19 percent of law enforcement officers are trained in handling crimes against animals, even though 78 percent acknowledge there is a link between animal abuse and other violent crimes.

The findings were released in late December by ASPCA following a nationwide survey of law enforcement officials.

"These findings validate what we have long assumed—that there is a major need for training for officers charged with enforcing animal cruelty laws and investigating cruelty cases," says Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of forensic sciences and anti-cruelty projects for ASPCA.

The study also reports that few witnesses call police for cases of animal abuse even though 30 percent of Americans say they have witnessed animal cruelty first-hand. Even when police are called, only 41 percent of law enforcement officers surveyed said they knew the relevant animal cruelty laws in their area and only 30 percent were familiar with the penalties.

Veterinarians may be more capable of spotting animal abuse but also might not know what to do when it happens. To help practitioners who suspect animal abuse, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently endorsed a plan jointly created by its own Committee on the Human-Animal Bond and the American Humane Association. The plan, titled "Practical Guidance for the Effective Response by Veterinarians to Suspected Animal Cruelty, Abuse and Neglect" is a "practical, user-friendly manual that acknowledges the concerns and difficulties cases of neglect and abuse present," AVMA says.

The guide is meant to help veterinarians establish protocols in their practices to deal with suspected animal abuse and will be distributed by AVMA, the American Humane Association and The National Linkage Project.