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Dog Law: What are a Vet's Obligations?


Because the law imposes different burdens on dog owners than on parents, I have found that open and frequent communication between vet and owner is almost more critical than it is between doctor and parent. In both sets of relationships, emotions can and do run hot; in both exam rooms, a human susceptibility to panic over the unknown and a human propensity to assign blame often interfere with the use of plain reason or plain talk. And in both, unequal levels of education between the parties tend to unravel the fabric of what had otherwise been a carefully woven understanding about reasonable treatment. Knowing that there is an imbalance of power, of knowledge and of the application of law should make dog owners particularly diligent about engaging in more talk, not less, about what has been, is to be or could be done.

So to answer your question: While some vets have a better “bedside manner” than others, the proverbial bottom line is that they can treat your dog essentially as a machine to be repaired to the extent that all of the following conditions are true: (a) dogs are physiologically comparable to machines; (b) the law allows vets to do so; and (c) you continue to employ them when they do. As a scientist, I believe that (a) is a poor assumption. As a lawyer, I nevertheless understand that (b) is unhappily correct. As a consumer, I find (c) to be the condition that is within one’s power to change. The marketplace of available veterinarians is expanding daily—you can help shape it by wise use of your pocketbook.





Geordie Duckler, JD, PhD, heads the Animal Law Practice, a unique private law practice in Portland, Ore., whose main focus is on the resolution, litigation and trial of animal-related disputes.


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