Abandoned and “Found” Animals, can you treat them?

One question which I get quite a bit is related to animals that are “found” or “abandoned.” Typically the person who brings in the animal is incredibly honest that they are not the owner of the animal.

The vet is unable to establish a VCPR or gain consent… without the owner or the agent of the owner, with rare exceptions. Because there is no owner consent, your options are limited.

First, you may, for no fee or reimbursement, provide emergent care through the good Samaritan exception. This means even your supplies must be provided without charge. See earlier posts on this site for more information on Georgia’s good sam law.

Second, if they are in the proper care of a shelter, humane society, or local government agency authorized for the care of found or abandoned animals, you may gain consent from them, as the custodian of the animal. I recommend getting that direction in writing, in case an owner later disputes their authority.

Third, certain state programs, such as the feral cat neuter programs are authorized for animals that do not have owners. Each state program has a statutory authorization you should verify prior to performing veterinary services.

What happens if you don’t? Apart from violation of the practice act and placing your license in jeopardy, there have been a number of legal disputes in this area.

First, neighbors and others may take possession of an owned animal for humane reasons or selfish, without the owners consent. When the owner discovers this, they sue both the unauthorized taker of the animal and the veterinarian. This is very costly, particularly with equine and specialized domestic breeds or training.

Second, particularly for euthanasia, there could be damages associated in a direct suit with an owner, or even civil charges from the agency that has authority over those animals. While it’s most common in the wildlife realm, unclaimed animals are also legally under the power of state and local regulation, and your unauthorized treatment of them, for a fee, can be subject to reprimand, fines, and further legal action.

Third, it’s an ethical issue. Except for immediate life saving care, neither you nor the findee should be making decisions on behalf of the animal or another person without owners consent. This is a fundamental tenet of the privilege to practice veterinary medicine… that your care is always authorized, not forced or done without knowledge of the owner.

While there are volumes of cases on unauthorized medical care in the human realm, as consent laws in the practice of veterinary medicine become more common (in Georgia since 2018), the prevolence of lawsuits and penalties for practice without consent will also continue to increase.

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