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Issue: 66 - Jun 15, 2014
You Did What??!!?? Summertime OSHA Musings
By: Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS
Kendrick Technical Services, LLC

It all started with a seemingly innocent phone call asking for my professional opinion on some pictures of pups regarding possible animal neglect, and it ended with a barrage of requests for interviews from reporters, and a call from the sheriff of a small rural town in North Carolina with information that a subpoena may be issued for my testimony in July at a trial in Asheville, NC. (I live 2.5 hours away in Maryville, TN in the beautiful Smokey Mountains). The problem was the so-called rescuer had Not followed acceptable legal protocol and was now being charged with a felony, and my name came up in the case for an opinion piece I had written which she then used to validate her actions. All this not only caused me to grrrr quite a bit, as I truly abhor when someone asks my opinion then goes ahead and does what they want which includes breaking the law- but it also wasted a lot of my time- which we all have in short supply- between conferences with my legal team, the sheriff, and of course the writing of reports.

But it did lead me to have one of those ‘light bulb’ moments for an unusual topic for our quarterly OSHA chats: Protocol for Animal Abuse and Neglect Cases

Animal abuse and animal neglect are always hot topics, laden with much emotionalism. We as veterinarians are often called in to give our professional opinion as to whether an animal has been abused or neglected. While you and I of course relish the fact that more and more laws are being passed to protect animals, prevent abuse, go after perpetrators of crimes against animals, I know none of us relish being pulled into the psycho-drama of so-called rescuers and do-gooders and especially the legal system. There are other reasons too why we hate these cases: the drama it can cause, and the disruption in our clinic and with our staff.

Let’s have a moment here of honesty here, one veterinarian to another. There are two groups that will cause us to roll our eyes, sigh in exasperation and pray to the veterinarian gods and goddesses that ‘never shall our threshold be crossed’ by these clients. Who are they? (Please feel free email me your personal list of clients you can do without, as I truly am interested in what your favorites and worse are), in my personal experience and in talking with our colleagues throughout the country there are two special groups we prefer not to deal with, simply because they are seriously high maintenance clients who really do Not always think we know what we are doing and prefer to tell Us how to do our job and worst of all feel we should give them much for little or no payment. Have a clue? Of course you do! Breeders (who truly feel they know way more than we do and are appalled when we try to tell them what to do) and the dreaded ‘Rescue people’. Now let me quickly state I know Lots of really truly great rescue folks (and breeders) and embrace them and try to be of help in any way I can; however this is certainly a group where the logical, practical, excellent client who truly wants to do what’s best for the critters, is more the exception than the rule for many of us.

You all know I do a lot of workshops and training programs on various topics such as:

  • Compassion Fatigue
  • Dealing with Difficult People
  • Working with Rescue Groups Community Programs That Work Giving Back without Giving In

And one of the number one hot topic issues I come across throughout this country is the problems with dealing with rescue people. My studies have taught me that a large percentage of people in rescue are themselves mentally ill. This is Not being ‘nasty’, but rather simple fact based on social work and psychiatric studies. The fact remains that many people who isolate themselves and have a difficult time dealing with society and reality, are more comfortable with animals and may have delusions that they are the only ones that can provide the safety, care and love those animals need. (This is especially true in hoarding cases, where sadly we see 100% recidivism).

The bottom-line is that with this group we are often exposed to more serious mental health issues than we are in our regular population of pet-owning clients.

Another sad truth is that, as with most things, there is good and there is bad, but unfortunately the bad in our experiences with rescue folks seems to outweigh the bad, which certainly makes it harder for the good- for those folks who are out there doing a great job fostering and caring for abused and neglected animals and moving them on into a new good stable home that can and will provide the love and care they need, and that ask our help and pay their bills! Those great rescue folks out there like that are the ones that keep me working with rescues in general.

So here is our tie-in in terms of OSHA. OSHA sees these situations only in terms of the potential hazard for our staff, and they Definitely see potential hazards, so here is a list, with explanations, of the primary potential hazards associated with dealing with rescuers, in the eyes of OSHA:

Workplace Violence- aggressive abusive clients; especially those who may be mentally ill

Zoonotic Diseases- many of these pups (and kitties) come in with fleas and ticks, as well as horrible wounds and skin infections, (we are seeing an increase in the MRSA too), as well as other staph and the usual mange, ringworm, and high internal parasitic loads.

Psychological Hazard- Compassion Fatigue and job burnout for staff. The simple horror of some of the abuse and neglect we see leads to serious stress reactions in our staff, and that must be addressed.

We need to ensure we address each of these potential hazards in our staff training, and it all starts with a discussion of the law, the legal system and how it works in terms of rescue groups, as well as animal neglect and animal abuse in terms of the veterinary practice. We need to make clear to our staff what our clinic protocol is if abuse or neglect is suspected. What the chain of command is and most importantly who to discuss the case with and when to remain silent! (Remember our Red Flags Rule training a few years back? It discusses in detail privacy and confidentiality. To refresh your memory check out our new Webinar pages on the new Website  www.VetOSHA.com)

A quick overview of the law as applies to ‘rescue’ must include the most important aspects of any intervention with someone else’s animal, and that is staying within the law. We have had many decades of fine people working diligently to get the laws changed, to get the protocols written, that allows us as citizens and especially us as veterinarians to help those animals that come into our clinic from a spotty questionable environment and history, while maintaining everyone’s rights. Those rights include the protection of a man’s property against unlawful invasion, protection of a man’s property against theft and protection of the veterinarian against prosecution and protection of the veterinarians’ right to conduct business and earn a living,  in other words: to get paid for services provided.

It is when rescuers do Not follow the law that things get messy - and of course they scream the loudest that they Are doing what’s best and right for ‘god’s creatures’ and they are the real heroes and martyrs and are making a change by bringing awareness to these awful situations.

But no- they are not - it is part of their being completely self-absorbed at best and delusional at worst, and they actually destroy any potential case that could have been made for neglect or abuse by Not following the protocol and laws, and that is the real crime.

It is Critical that we make sure our staff understands that our role is to help the animal while staying strictly within the law, which will include making careful notes, taking pictures and discussing the case with the police and other authorities such as the DA. (Again for a helpful training video on this check out our webinar section on our Web page www.VetOSHA.com).

So, it is finally summertime, and the clients are out and about and seeing things that they haven’t seen as they went around bundled up over the long, and seemingly unending, winter. And some of the things they are seeing are skinny, wormy pups, chained dogs, caged dogs, feral cats, kittens, kittens, kittens and of course puppies too, and we may be brought in to cases where an animal was rescued or where we suspect neglect or abuse.

So what happens when one of these ‘rescued’ animals are brought into your clinic or left in your parking lot or at your front door?

What you do, what the protocol is for your practice, has a great effect on your staff, and OSHA has a lot to say about That!

As always being prepared and training for situations before they arise is the key to a safe well- functioning veterinary clinic and will allow you to deal with even the most horrendous of animal abuse and neglect cases that come in to your practice.

Be sure to send me an email with your list of the best and the worst of client types you see to: chery@VetOSHA.com

As always please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Stay safe and cool this summer!

Chery

865-405-4255

www.VetOSHA.com

Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS is a writer, educator, speaker and consultant. She is the nation’s leading veterinary regulatory control and OSHA expert. Her time spent in Washington D.C. as an advocate for the veterinary profession with OSHA and other regulatory agencies has resulted in many positive compliance changes for our industry. Her manuals and training programs are used by clinics and animal care facilities nationwide. She has the only GHS compliance program specifically for the veterinary practice and designed the most widely used Compassion Fatigue Prevention program used nationwide. She speaks at association meetings and conferences across the country as well as holds workshops and retreats in her beautiful Smokey Mountains of Eastern TN.

Her well attended workshops are constantly praised as powerful resources for veterinarians, and their practice managers and staff. Her new Website www.VetOSHA.com promises to be an exciting addition to the world of online resources for the veterinary practice. Watch as it grows this summer with On-Demand Webinars!

For information on Dr. Kendrick’s onsite OSHA consulting services, manuals, training programs, charts and safety supplies please visit the Website or call her at 865-405-4255 or email:  info@VetOSHA.com

Watch our new website as it updates to include On-Demand Webinars and Staff Training!

Check us out at  www.VetOSHA.com

Need a speaker at your meeting this summer? We are scheduling now for our nationwide tour! Be sure to call to get your clinic or meeting on our schedule! 865-405-4255