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4 May 2012
An initiative has been launched in Scotland to help vets uncover and tackle domestic abuse where an animal is also being harmed.
Research and clinical evidence increasingly suggests links between the abuse of children, vulnerable adults and animals and vets are being asked to join their human medicine counterparts in making the links and tackling abuse.
The launch of the Domestic Abuse Veterinary Initiative (DAVI), an initiative by Scottish charity Medics Against Violence (MAV), follows the success of a similar initiative with dentists.
According to the police it takes, on average, 35 previous incidents of abuse before a victim feels able to report it. To encourage those suffering domestic abuse to report, a range of strategies and support systems have been put in place which are endorsed and practised by many of the professionals the victim may come into contact with, including doctors and dentists and now veterinary surgeons too.
The Veterinary Defence Society (VDS) receives an average of 5 calls a month from vets asking for advice on suspected animal cruelty and abuse cases. Because of the vet-client relationship, members of the veterinary team are also in an ideal position to notice changes in someone's appearance or behaviour. By expressing concern, vets could give an abused client the confidence to seek help.
The MAV/DAVI project is supported by Crimestoppers, OneKind and the Links Group (of which BVA is a member). As part of the Initiative MAV is making available on request a practice note and a waiting room poster that asks 'Are you and your pet sharing a secret?' and is writing to every veterinary practice in Scotland to raise awareness. Later this year CPD training courses for vets in Scotland are also planned.
The practice note will be supported by more detailed online guidance notes provided by the Links Group. The practice note folds out into an A2 poster which sets out four simple steps (AVDR) to help vets seize the “golden moment” to uncover abuse while acknowledging that the vet is not an expert in human abuse and limiting the vet's further involvement. Veterinary practices can request copies of the practice note and waiting room poster from the MAV co-ordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org on 0141 532 5816.
The practice note sets out the four steps of Asking, Validating, Documenting and Referring, with the aim of standardising the vet's intervention, allowing questions to be asked about the animal under their care, and by extension the client too. The vet is advised to talk to a colleague and/or make a record of his/her suspicion, or if there is a disclosure from the client he/she could be encouraged to seek help from local or national domestic abuse agencies.
The BVA has made the Links Group guidance note available at http://www.bva.co.uk/activity_and_advice/2824.aspxand it will shortly be available on the Veterinary Defence Society website www.thevds.co.uk.
MAV founder Dr Christine Goodall said:
“Like doctors and dentists, vets often build strong relationships with clients over years of visits. This makes them ideally placed to spot signs of abuse not only in an animal but also in their owner. Yet on the whole, like dentists, vets are unprepared for this situation. The training we will soon be offering will help them take advantage of a 'golden moment' to intervene and help.”
BVA President Carl Padgett said:
“The BVA fully supports MAV/DAVI. The profession should welcome the opportunity to play its part in tackling the abuse of animals and humans. When a patient presents with non-accidental injuries and abuse is suspected vets can now follow our recommended guidance.
“I want to stress that abuse is not just a companion animal issue. Large animal vets may come into contact with it too and we should be aware of vulnerable people trapped on remote farms, for example.
“With Crimestoppers involved in this initiative, vets have to take only a few steps to make a difference that should benefit abused animals and hopefully help address victims of domestic abuse as well.”
Dr Freda Scott-Park, BVA representative on and Chairman of the Links Group, said:
“Over the years we've seen a growing number of cases where animals have been used as a way of manipulating and controlling victims of domestic abuse. The threat or actual abuse of a pet can often prevent women from leaving situations of domestic abuse. By training vets to be aware of the signs of animal and domestic abuse, we can hopefully support those who are suffering towards getting help.
“While this is currently a Scottish initiative we hope to roll it out UK-wide in time and I encourage all UK vets to look at the guidance notes. My questions to vets are: 'have you had a case where the animal's injuries didn't match up with the owner's story?' and 'could you have made a difference to the animal and the potential human victim of domestic abuse?'
“Ultimately I would like practices to incorporate the MAV/DAVI guidance into their practice protocols.”
1.Case study: small animal veterinary surgeon Andrew*
“Earlier this year a recent graduate assistant of mine was presented with a bull terrier type dog with severe scalding injuries. The owners were a couple in their early thirties. The explanation they gave was that it had pulled the electric kettle down on itself the previous evening but that they had not appreciated the seriousness of the problem until the following morning.
“My assistant was thorough enough to identify a fracture of the lower fore limb for which the owners could offer no explanation, at this point my assistant asked me to offer an opinion.
“On closer examination the dog also displayed a number of puncture wounds consistent with dog bite injuries for which again there was no explanation. The injuries were so severe that the animal was euthanased on humane grounds. Following euthanasia a second fracture of the opposite eye socket was identified on a radiograph.
“My suspicions of a non-accidental explanation for bites, scalds and fractures on the same day with no adequate history resulted in my reporting the case to the RSPCA.
“The most confusing aspect was the fact that the wife had spent a large sum of money on the dog 18 months previously for an operation to remove an intestinal foreign body and did not seem a likely candidate to be involved in abuse. The husband it transpires had recently been released from prison for an unspecified offence.
“When the RSPCA interviewed the couple a few days later the wife stuck to the story that she had no idea how the dog had become involved in an incident that could have left it with puncture wounds or fractures and that the scalding was self inflicted.
“I remain convinced that there was intimidation at work here, either intimidation of the wife not to testify, or of both of them if a third party was involved. Had I had the MAV/DAVI guidance back then I would have known what to do.”
2.How the initiative came into existence:
The Links Group is a multi-agency interest group that promotes the welfare and safety of vulnerable children, animals and adults so that they are free from violence and abuse. As member of the Links Group BVA representative and former BVA president Dr Freda Scott Park wanted to raise awareness amongst the veterinary profession of the animal cases they could be missing as well as a possible link to the owner being abused. Links was approached by OneKind and MAV who wanted to include vets in their initiative and the so the Domestic Abuse Veterinary Initiative (DAVI) was brought to life.
3.The four steps that help vets tackle domestic abuse (the AVDR approach which was developed by Dr Barbara Gerbert, University of California, for dentists):
- Asking the clients about abuse
- providing Validating messages acknowledging that violence is wrong and confirming the client's worth
- Documenting history, presenting signs and disclosures in notes and if possible, with relevant images (for example, x rays or computer images or photographs)
- Referring victims to domestic abuse specialists in the community
4.The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons covers animal abuse in the client confidentiality section (http://www.rcvs.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/code-of-professional-conduct-for-veterinary-surgeons/supporting-guidance/client-confidentiality/)
5.MAV/DAVI partners are the Links Group (http://www.thelinksgroup.org.uk/), Crimestoppers (http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org/) and One Kind (http://www.onekind.org/). The Medics Against Violence website is http://www.medicsagainstviolence.co.uk/.