#LeadByExample on #AnimalCruelty Prevention - Vet Councils & Colleges et al
#LeadByExample on #AnimalCruelty Prevention - Vet Councils & Colleges et al
Time to #LeadByExample:
We can ONLY enforce PCA rules if Vet Councils, KCI & other powerful aggregators inform, direct and implement them.
The revised draft bill for The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA) with higher fines and jail time shines the spotlight on prevention to avoid punishment , while it moots harsher penalties as a deterrent. There has been excellent progress in animal cruelty laws in India, particularly on dog sale, marketing and pet shops, but its impact is diluted as there is no push, penalty or enforcement from the primary stakeholders in the veterinarian space, namely Veterinary Council of India, State Veterinary Councils, the Kennel Club of India as well as the Pet Practitioners Associations across India. Grey areas means clearly it is now time to do so.
Special significance and impact of this is seen specifically in the Dog Breeding and Marketing Rules 2017 (DBM) and the Pet Shop Rules, (PS19) gazetted in 2019. While these rules have been impeccably and painstakingly assembled and can largely mitigate cruelty in breeding and selling of dogs, there remains a large, palpable gap between the implementers and the enforcers; not just because of the seeming lack of information and awareness but NO disciplinary action taken up by concerned Council or Association. Ownership and a strong message is needed.
1. Veterinary Council of India (VCI) The 1992 Veterinary Code of Ethics & Conduct clearly states that the State Veterinary Councilsmust ensure the current statutes and laws are implemented and Veterinary Code of Ethics are adhered to . The PCA is a centre point for this and in deciding what constitutes cruelty. It is naturally assumed that the Veterinary profession, as gatekeepers to animal compassion and cruelty prevention , certainly cannot themselves allow, enable or condone animal cruelty. In fact, as per their code of ethics they stand strongly as a voice for the animals. For e.g. the specific objectives of the Karnataka Veterinary Council shows Point 7 as : Implement such other Acts & Rules promulgated from time to time by either Union or State Government and Point 4 as: Implement Veterinary Council of India (Standard of Professional Conduct, Etiquette & Code of Ethics for Veterinary Practitioner’s) Regulations 1992.
In terms of relevance what this means is: if vets are fully informed that dogs cannot be bred without formal breeders licence, or sold without a pet shop license, they are not just at liberty, but required by law, to check the Breeders license at the time of pregnancy or whelping and in case of no license, report it to the State Animal Welfare Board (SAWB). Similarly if they note that pups are being sold against the legal framework (under 2 months of age, unvaccinated or without records), they are ethically bound to action, counsel and report the same. This is not happening at all. Sadly, there have been many cases of illegal breeders, backyard puppy mills and home breeders using registered vets with impunity. The change of laws & its communication must be on priority for the councils so that the state council vets are not inadvertently guilty of breaking the law, and engaging in cruelty. Presumably, breaking of the law by a registered veterinarian could result in legal action as well as disciplinary action like being disbarred from the council. There has not been a single case of disciplinary action taken on these or other matters, so there is no fear or penalty that impact the less informed or sometimes less reputable vets to continue this unfortunate practice. Therefore the State Veterinary Council MUST take their role as the primarily legal counsel for veterinary doctors very seriously to ensure highest standard of care AND legality. Since Point 31 ie ‘Professional Conduct’ below is specified in the gazette, perhaps VCI must explicitly update that the adherence to PCA is considered ‘infamous conduct’.
(1) The Council may, by regulations, specify standards of professional conduct and etiquette and a code of ethics for veterinary practitioners.
(2) Regulations made by the Council under sub-section (1) may specify which violations thereof shall constitute infamous conduct in any professional respect, that is to say, professional misconduct, and such provisions shall have effect notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force.
(Veterinary Colleges which come under the VCI purview, play a huge impact on this as the vet students taught and shaped by them have a chance to understand the new methods if treatment and compassionate laws but also be aware of the shift to welfare rather than mere animal husbandry or a commercial profession)
2. Similarly the Kennel Club of India (KCI) specifically focuses on promotion of specific breeds and pedigrees, to champion shows and promoting hobby breeders, pedigree pups for sale in addition to listing studs or dams for meeting. In the AWBI sit DBM Rules Point 4(iv) states “The Kennel Club of India, and other kennel clubs, shall issue puppy registration certificates only to breeders that are licensed by the local authority, and registered with the Board.” As responsible council dealing with one of the largest interested groups of commercial or specialty dog owners, the KCI do not stipulate the requirements of either a pet shop license as per the pet shop act of 2019 and the dog breeding and marketing rules of 2017. There is no mention in their dog transfer or litter registration form of instructing their many breeders to seek breeders license registration by the State Animal Welfare Board as per the rules. This creates a huge impact because the largest interface being passive or indifferent implementation of rules to protect the very animals that they are apparently devoted to, seems to convey a lack of concern for the voiceless companion animal or pet, the very group that the government is making all attempts to protect.
3. The 3rd category covers Pet Practitioners of India (FSAPAI) part of WSAVA which are organised across state and city lines and focus primarily on companion and small animals . Their informal space, knowledge exchange and direct exposure to and impact on pet owners make them a VERY important channel & influencer. Their PCA understanding and integrity in conveying the same to their patients is critical in ensuring that the animals are not cruelly treated as per the current laws of the land.
4. The fourth category is the Government Animal Husbandry (AHVS) departments where states veterinarians also need to enable and support the incrementation of the PC Rules to companion and community animals under their purview. Another example is when government vets attached to the State Animal Welfare Board give licesnses for breeding or pet shops, slaughter & animal transportation without fully checking and assuring themselves it is above board, will face legal consequences as well as severe disciplinary action as per Civil Services guidelines.
5. The next category is that of Hobby Pet Owners and dog breed aficionados who do not believe in #AdoptDontShop. As they look at the pet dogs as largely show dogs, the care is limited as the entity is a commercial being and not a companion animal. It also encourages them to carelessly or deliberately break the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act by buying from an unlicensed breeder, buying pups before 2 months of age, engaging in illegal home breeding etc.
6. The real crux lies in an effective, strong AWBI and SAWB in implementing these rules and laws. The poor implementation of excellent laws means that there is no real mitigation on animal cruelty prevention. All this lip service put a lot of pressure on the system including animal lovers, tax paying citizens, government and shelters, who see a high number of abandoned or badly treated companion animals. We lose lives and precious tax rupees. Systemic and sensible change needs to be done at both operational & strategic levels.
What do we need to do?
1. AWBI must formally write to & get a sign off all these categories informing them about the rules, necessary training, empathy and sensitivity required as well as the penalty for breaking the law. A written confirmation that the stakeholders will unequivocally follow & implement the laws must be taken. They in turn must officially, formally communicate to their members via website, collateral and formal circular.
2. Associations to ensure online or hybrid training modules so that members are fully apprised of the laws as well as their own pivotal role in implementing the same to prevent cruelty.
3. The compulsory university course on Animal Welfare, Ethics and Jurisprudence for vet students must be updated at all veterinary colleges, and signed off by the SAWB as reflecting all laws, legal perspectives welfare for animals. Refresher courses every two years to be encouraged, as a prerequisite to practice.
4. To ensure ample caution and to avoid any bias, any veterinarian engaging in commercial animal activity like breeding, sales or slaughter of animals should be asked to give a declaration so as to ensure no medical conflict of interest or inadvertent impropriety in giving licenses, or prevention of cruelty.
5. In case of repeat offenders, as formally complained to the AWBI, District Magistrate, SPCA, Police the Vet Council (or Pet Practitioners Association) must consider disbarment of the vet, member or delisting for a period of time. In the case of Kennel Club, the members should be removed, and no pedigree certificates issued.
6. Taking legal responsibility must come from the top. The owner of a large vet practice, a breeding facility etc. must be held accountable of any of his/her staff breaks any of the rules. In this way, the frequent excuse of a junior staff’s ignorance is no longer acceptable or usable.
7. Create cross functional groups of NGOs, Council members, government (especially police) and animal lovers to ensure that laws are adhered to in letter and spirit and there is no cruelty, whether deliberate or inadvertent.
8. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse to about punishment as most would know. It is the duty of the councils on behalf of the vets, breeders and pet owners they represent, to ensure that they are informed and follow the rules.
9. AWBI to write (get data/reports) to all SAWBs and stakeholders (cc: CSs, DGPs) holding then responsible for the adherence to cruelty laws, as well as implementation of penalties, license withdrawal, spaying breeder stock. By doing so, a strong message goes out on AWBI’s zero tolerance in enforcing PCA.
10. The Police should be an active part of this exercise as the largest enforcer and stakeholder.
11. A safe Whistleblowers policy should be quickly implemented where anyone seeing cruelty in breeding and sale or lack of legal licenses or framework, can confidentially report and SPCA/SAWB has to act on information given. The powerful breeder lobby, has great influence and closes ranks quickly, making it difficult for an ordinary person to take up arms.
12. A campaign to promote companion animals as family rather than mere property or commercial beings must be encouraged by the state and city government and judiciary. Indeed, it is the only way to prevent cruelty to dogs and other animals.
13. Update the Vet Code of Ethics 1992, Council Act (and KCI rules) – they need an overhaul given some of the PCA changes, and they need more teeth & penalties.
All of us in animal welfare space have the kindest of intentions, want to prevent cruelty, so it’s the need of the hour for the leaders and influencers to lead by example and walk the talk.