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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Legal vs. Ethical Obligation?

I was at an animal welfare meeting which was attended by veterinarians, shelter employees, rescue volunteers, as well as law enforcement personnel.  The meeting was very educational, and also allowed people to ask questions regarding laws about which they needed more clarification.

Of course the topic turned to puppy mills.  One of the topics discussed was the fact that licensed commercial breeders are required to have a veterinarian to "sign on" as the veterinarian for that breeder.

One veterinarian asked a question.  " If we sign on as the veterinarian for a facility, does that make us legally responsible for what happens in that facility."  The answer from our speaker was a simple no. 

It was not just the answer that disturbed me.  It was the fact that the question was asked.  If you sign on to a facility, you are not just signing a paper.  You, as an animal care professional, are attesting to the fact that the care in that facility meets your own animal care standards, which hopefully are not limited to the legal requirements. Veterinarians deal on a daily basis with the progeny of the dogs bred within these facilities, and small animal veterinarians make the majority of their income caring for the dogs who are now part of a human family, but once were the offspring of those puppy mill dogs that reside in cages for their lifetime.   If veterinarians agree to sign on the dotted line, should they not be obligated to attest to the care of the animals residing within these facilities?  Are the legal standards ALL they should consider when (and if) they do tour these facilities and decide to sign on th dotted line? 

 My answer to the original question is a bit more complicated.

"No, sir, you are not legally responsible if their standards are not kept within legal requirements.  However, you are ethically responsible to sign on ONLY IF you know for a fact that their facilities meet legal requirements and your own ethical and medical expectations of how the dogs (parents of the patients for which you care and from whom you make a living) should be kept for their lifetime."


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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

If the vet signs on for that facility, under the code of ethics are not legally obligated to "reproductively sterilize" any animal that produces known genetic defects? And under the ethics code could they not legally provide officials evidence if the parents were in unfit care?

Joan Hutson-Windschitl said...

Great response Lisa... Did you have a chance to actually voice that??

Maggie Hess said...

another excellent article - could get into a lengthy discussion as this applies to more than one area!

Cindy Khalsa said...

I wish there were more vets out there like you , I know there are some , but there are others that it's all about the bottom line to them male and female .

Slbaldwin said...

I 100% agree with you. I also feel like, if you know the facility and the animals are not being cared for that it is your obligation to report it to the proper people.

I'm not sure how vets could work in a puppy mill, knowing the conditions the dogs are in.

Dane Kimball said...

I think this would be one of the reasons I couldn't be a vet. My friend worked at a animal clinic in Charlottesville, VA and he said that he was constantly faced with choices like these. It can be quite stressful.