FRANKFORT, Ky. — For the first time in 13 years, Kentucky is not ranked at the bottom of the country when it comes to animal welfare; however, this isn't a cause for celebration. Kentucky is still ranked just 47th in the nation for its animal protection laws according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
A new law that went into effect Wednesday could help boost the ranking and protect animals in the bluegrass state.
Senate Bill 21, sponsored by Sen. C.B. Embry (R-Morgantown) allows for veterinarians in the state to report animal abuse if they see it, while previously vets were only able to report abuse if the client gave permission or there was a court order.
“According to a poll of veterinarians, anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4 of veterinarians will encounter an animal abuse situation in their career so we do know it is there and this will allow us new leeway to report abuse if we deem it necessary,” said Jim Weber, the Governmental Relations Committee chair and past president of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association (KVMA).
KVMA has fought for this law for 11 years after a 2009 law adding privacy for veterinary records inadvertently created the prohibition on vets reporting suspected animal abuse. While the association was finally successful in removing the ban, they hope the law does not have to be used often.
“Hopefully it will have very little impact,” said Weber. “Hopefully we don’t have a lot of animal abuse going on that veterinarians feel the need to report.”
Despite their hope, there are several situations where this can help save an animal’s life. Many domestic pets can become a victim of domestic violence when a person turns the abuse from their partner to their partner’s animal. And as drug addiction continues to plague the commonwealth and the world, animals are becoming victims to help feed their owners addiction. Vets are increasingly seeing injured animals come to their clinics so the owners can obtain the pain medication for themselves.
“That’s kind of emerging issue,” said Weber. “It’s something that wasn’t even our radar when I graduated from veterinary school, but now in reality, with our big drug abuse situation in the country, it’s one of those emerging things that veterinarians have to watch out for.”
Animal advocates believe this is another step in the right direction for animal welfare in Kentucky. A 2019 law banning bestiality in Kentucky helped move Kentucky from the bottom of the country in animal laws.
“We do need laws like what’s going in today and what went in last year on the sexual abuse of animals to strengthen and protect animals,” Weber said.
The bill does create some exemptions for reporting of suspected abuse of livestock. Instead of the veterinarian reporting the abuse directly to law enforcement authorities, they would report it to the state veterinarian to have a second look.
The law also does not mandate vets to report abuse to officials as many other states do. KVMA believes this provision of the law is important in helping educate animal owners who may not realize what they are doing could be considered abuse.
“A lot of what is called abuse sometimes is just ignorance or lack of knowledge from clients, and the vet can work with the client and solve the problem, educate them on how to do things better and hopefully resolve the situation without having to involve the authorities,” said Weber.
Under the law, veterinarians are immune from any liabilities from reporting.