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 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.
“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.”