Saskatchewan is set to join six other Canadian provinces that require veterinarians to report suspected animal neglect or abuse to animal protection agencies.
This requirement already applies in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Québec.
Provincial agriculture minister Lyle Stewart announced late in November that Saskatchewan will join them.
So far, the amendments to the Saskatchewan Animal Protection Act have gone through their first reading in the province’s Legislative Assembly.
Suspected neglect cases can be reported to several enforcement agencies, including Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan. Its executive director, Kaley Pugh, believes mandatory reporting will get information to the right agency sooner.
“I think it’s going to empower the veterinarians to have a lot more involvement in the investigative process.
“Right now I think there are veterinarians in the province that see things they would consider cruelty or abuse or neglect, but they’re reluctant to make a complaint to an investigative agency for a lot of different reasons.”
They may worry about a negative impact on their business, about violating doctor-patient confidentiality, or be confused about the investigative process and their role in it, she explains.
She recalls a few cases where veterinarians had information that they did not feel comfortable sharing with animal protection officers, “so it certainly hampered our investigation to some degree.”
Pugh predicts the law change will result in more complaints, describing mandatory reporting as a “fairly significant change.”
Dr Stephen Manning, the associate dean of clinical programs with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, which is part of University of Saskatchewan, says the law change will likely take the grey area out of some of the situations faced by veterinarians.
One example is when an elderly client who is well known to a clinician begins to neglect a long-time pet due to the client’s own decline. It’s a judgment call that veterinarians may struggle over, Manning says.
“If we know that it’s our legal obligation — not just our ethical responsibility — to report it, I like to think it might make those decisions a little easier, or a little more clear.”
Veterinarians, he says, also encounter situations where a client can’t afford every diagnostic or treatment procedure recommended. He says it takes judgment to be able to tell when it’s necessary to call the province’s Animal Protection Services versus following up with the owner in a couple of days, discussing the situation with colleagues, and accepting the client’s decision to choose a reduced level of clinical services.