New NY Law Protects Vets Who Report Animal Abuse

by Sherry Morse

On October 6, New York Governor George Pataki signed into law a bill that will provide immunity from liability to veterinarians who disclose companion animal records without the owner's consent to law enforcement and animal control agencies.

The law is designed to protect veterinarians in cases where they suspect that an animal's condition is a result of neglect or abuse or they believe that reporting the animal's condition is necessary to protect the welfare or health of the animal.

The law was passed because veterinarians, by the very nature of their work, are often the first to see signs of abuse or neglect.

Additionally, they are often in the best position to save an animal's life, not only by providing medical care, but also by alerting authorities who can prevent the abuse or neglect from continuing.

Often, however, their concerns about patient confidentiality have made them reluctant to report information about animals that they suspect are abused or neglected.

The new law, which took effect immediately, makes it clear that as long as a veterinarian acts in good faith when reporting the suspected abuse or neglect of an animal, he or she will be immune from liability from such actions.

Under the law, good faith means that the veterinarian believes that disclosure of the information is necessary to protect the animal involved.

The veterinarian may alert police officers, the local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, an animal control officer, the department of agriculture and markets, district attorney's office or any other appropriate government agency if he or she believes that a violation of any state or federal law pertaining to the care, treatment, abuse or neglect of a companion animal has occurred.