YOU SUSPECT ANIMAL ABUSE “” NOW WHAT?
What do you do if you believe that a professional, such as a horse trainer or veterinarian, engaged in abusive conduct.
KNOW THE RISKS – If you suspect that an equine industry professional is engaging in abusive practices, proceed very cautiously and always in good faith. Your accusations, if improperly made, could potentially destroy someone’s business and reputation. Your conduct could even generate a lawsuit against you in which a professional claims that you defamed him (through slander or libel) or improperly interfered with his business.
WHOM TO CONTACT – Because certain state and federal laws make animal abuse illegal, your good faith accusations are best directed to law enforcement authorities, such as the local police department, the prosecutor’s office, or possibly the local animal control officer. As you meet with them, you will be asked to provide details about what you saw, when you saw it, and much more. Be prepared for the possibility that the authorities will know nothing about horses and might not understand your complaints.
SUPPORTING YOUR ACCUSATION – Images caught on video often tell the story better than anyone can describe them, and the one depicted will have fewer defenses. In fact, I recall watching a TV news show about a small animal veterinarian who was accused of abusing dogs and cats in his care. Someone caught the veterinarian abusing an animal on videotape and sent the video to the police, who eventually brought animal cruelty charges against the vet.
SUGGESTIONS – Those who want to respond to perceived animal abuse can keep these ideas in mind:
Proceed with caution. Be cautious before accusing anyone of committing a criminal act, such as animal abuse. Reckless accusations you make against others, and accusations made in bad faith, put you at risk of a lawsuit against you for defamation or improper interference. If this does happen, be sure to speak to legal representation (such as the Salwin Law Group as an example) before proceeding any further.
Give your evidence special care. If it would be legal to photograph or videotape the complained-of activity, and if you record the conduct, remember that you are holding evidence. In a court of law, the integrity of evidence could be compromised if there were irregularities in how and where it was maintained. Keep close track of the whereabouts of your equipment, films, or photos.
Direct your accusations appropriately. Contact law enforcement if you want to take action against perceived abuse. If you proceed in good faith and direct your accusations properly, you will find that the law holds certain protections for you against claims of defamation. Your lawyer can discuss this with you further.
Accusations of abuse are serious and can have tremendous legal consequences. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.
About the Author
Julie Fershtman is one of the nation’s most experienced Equine Law practitioners. A lawyer for 27 years, she is a shareholder with Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC (www.fosterswift.com) and has successfully tried equine cases before juries in 4 states. She has drafted hundreds of equine industry contracts and is a Fellow and officer of the American College of Equine Attorneys. She has spoken on Equine Law in 28 states and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America. For more information, visit www.fershtmanlaw.com, www.equinelaw.net, or www.equinelawblog.com.
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