"Should I report my client of animal abuse?" is asked in every Facebook Pet Groomer board several times a month. The pictures are disturbing and the comments are heated with emotion and fury. We are all die-hard animal lovers or we would not be in an industry caring for their health and well-being. But what is the right answer and how do you know if YOU should report a client? It's easy to shout on your phone's keyboard: "How dare they! What horrible people! Their dog needs to be taken away!" but being in that position, on the front-line, can sometimes be a lot trickier and much more personal when faced with this dilemma.
What do the vet's say?
Interestingly enough, veterinarian's feel the same stress and pressure that pet stylists have when reporting their clients of animal abuse. That is why the AVMA created an Animal Welfare Division to give the vets resources to set up protocols and response plans for abuse and suspected abuse cases. Partnered with the ASPCA in this endeavor, it outlines what is considered animal abuse, cruelty and neglect and your legal rights when reporting.
Category of Animal Abuse
There are four ways that the Anti-Cruelty Society defines animal abuse which is upheld by law in many states in the US. These definitions are directed at veterinarian practices to determine whether or not they have a case to report.
The four categories are:
Intentional infliction of injuries
We will review just neglect since the three other categories rarely, if ever, would be a patron at a grooming salon.
Criteria for suspicion of Neglect
Poor body condition but client refuses needed treatment.
Severely matted and client refuses grooming
Client declines medical care or euthanasia to relive serious illness or injury
Lack of concern for animals welfare
Dangerous or unsanitary environment
Excessive number of animals - Crap! That is many of us!! ;)
(Sources: Patronek, 1998; Anti-Cruelty Society, n.d.)
Neglect is present. What do you do next?
So you are faced with a pet in awful shape or sickness. The following questions must be address:
"Is this an intentional act of harm or is it just the ignorance of the client?"
"Does the client exhibit lack of concern for their pets welfare?"
"What will the client do about it?" (i.e. go to the vets office immediately)
Next, you need to determine what you know about this client's life.
Is it a new client, once a year client or a regular?
When the client is questioned about the state of their pet, are they defensive, argumentative, dismissive or indifferent?
Does the 'story' the client tells match the state of the pets neglect?
Keep in mind, some people may already be embarrassed and feel a tremendous amount of shame, especially when a professional is calling them out for it. Be mindful of the fact that their reaction may be shame-driven. They might act aloof because they are so embarrassed.
Think about it like this, when you know you did something wrong, really wrong, you want to crawl into a hole and hide. Now you have a person shining a big, fat spotlight into that hole saying, "you suck as a human." I'm not giving anyone a pass, but don't let your love of their pet overshadow what is really happening when you confront them.
What does your heart say?
Neglect more often than not, results from ignorance, financial burdens and life circumstances that get in the way of adequately caring for a pet. If a pet owner is visiting a grooming salon regularly, does it really constitute animal cruelty when there are some pets used in fighting rings or being shot at by their drunk owners?
Again....hard to say.
Just because a client pays $60 to get their dog groomed, but it ALWAYS comes to you in a disgusting condition, is that still considered neglect? In many cases, organizations, animal control and law enforcement may not touch that case since the person is still showing effort in the care of their pet. Check your state laws.
Trust your gut.
Many times animal abuse and neglect sheds a spotlight on other abuses in the home. If you truly feel like something is not right, and it is not just a client that doesn't know any better, you should speak out and say something. Contact the pet owners vet as well to see if they have noticed anything too. Together, you can form a stronger case.
Even if it does not constitute calling the authorities, at the very least, you and the vet can tag team on pet care education and monitor the situation closely. And remember, document everything!
Have you ever had to call the authorities on a client of yours regarding animal abuse? Have you ever thought about it but then decided against it? Would love to hear your thoughts and start a discussion on what groomers should do.