Dr. Calvin Potter, a veterinarian at Heartland Veterinary Hospital in Paducah, checks up on Milo, a 4-month-old blue heeler mix (not an abuse victim) who was recently neutered. A new Kentucky law allows veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse without a court order or owner permission.

A new law that went into effect recently gives veterinarians in the commonwealth more leeway in reporting cases of animal abuse.

Senate Bill 21, sponsored by Sen. C.B. Embry (R-Morgantown), was approved during the 2020 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. It allows veterinarians to make a report to authorities if they find that an animal under their care has been abused.

“Prior to this bill passing, a veterinarian seeing an animal they suspect is abused could only report that suspected abuse in two ways — either by court order or by the client giving permission to release that information,” said Jim Weber, the Government Relations Committee chair and past president of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association.

“What this bill does is allow the veterinarian, where he sees abuse, to report that to local law enforcement. We feel it’s a big step forward.”

The law also provides for veterinarians to report abuse of domestic farm animals to the state veterinarian.

“We hope that veterinarians never have to use this legislation, of course,” Weber said. “But various studies over time have shown that 50 to 75% of veterinarians have probably seen a case of animal abuse at some point over the career.”

Dr. Clayton Potter, a veterinarian with Heartland Veterinary Hospital, said it’s a law no one wants to have to use.

“No one does. Animal control doesn’t. It’s certainly not something anybody, at least in the areas I know, would ever take lightly,” he said.

“No veterinarian wants to, but when they see it (abuse) they want to see that something would be done for the better interest of the animal.”

A law went into effect about 11 years ago regarding the confidentiality of veterinarian’s records, according to Weber.

“Unfortunately at that time it was kind of overlooked, the fact that we would not be able to report abuse unless there was a court order or client’s permission. Over the last 11 years we’ve tried to correct that,” he said.

“We were the only state where the veterinarian was limited in that way. In all the other states in the country, veterinarians were allowed to report abuse if they saw it.”

According to Potter, the new law won’t just benefit veterinarians.

“It’s also going to help animal control, because I think they’ve wanted to involve other people. This is going to give everybody a better base to work from,” he said.