Treating Wildlife Within The Law

Presenter: Liz Mullineaux BVM&S CertSHP DVM&S MRCVS, Scientific Advisor to Secret World Wildlife Rescue, part-time for Vets Now in Edinburgh, plus roles at several academic institutions and is currently writing a set of ‘good practice’ guidelines for wildlife centres with the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS)

After watching a webinar in March this year led by BVZS president and VDS consultant Michael Stanford discussing ‘The Legalities of Treating Wildlife’, there were clearly a number of messages to take on board to protect ourselves against an increasingly litigious society. One of those messages was to ensure transfer of ownership of injured wildlife to the practice when brought in by a member of the general public as any finder of an injured wild animal are considered to legally become its owner. Transferring ownership should help overcome issues regarding the legalities of treatment and euthanasia of wildlife. This message was re-enforced in last week’s webinar led by wildlife rescue scientific advisor, Liz Mullineaux.

Liz acknowledged that treating wildlife on the right side of the law and the RCVS could be a ‘minefield’ with an increasing number of litigation cases being brought against vets from disgruntled members of the public or volunteers usually about the treatment or euthanasia of a wild animal. Other litigious cases also include the illegal supply and possession of drugs, failure of vets to attend wildlife casualties and negligence related to standards of care.

The aim of this webinar was to guide vets through this minefield to ensure they remain on the right side of the law and RCVS, with Liz offering advice from a very practical perspective, working both in practice and within the wildlife community. Liz’s first take-home message was to try and ensure there is a good working relationship between the practice and wildlife centre. Experience in a previous practice has shown me that there can be a degree of, shall we politely say, ‘eye rolling’ from both the vet and the staff at a wildlife centre. After listening to Liz, it may have been a more fruitful relationship if we had worked harder to get the staff on board so they could be educated about the veterinary aspects of wildlife care, explaining the continual prescribing of antibiotics and analgesics, so often requested by the wildlife centre and a major source for the eye rolling, may not always be necessary.

Regular visits and good records are also vital for protecting against legislation. Although regular visits are essential it may not always be practical for a vet to attend every wildlife injury presented to a centre. However we are still responsible for the injured animal and Liz explained that under these circumstances it is imperative that written SOPs are in place to direct staff from appropriate decision making. This could be in the form of a flow chart directing staff either to administer basic first aid only, to actively contact the vet for telephone advice or seek veterinary attention immediately. As only vets can diagnose it is important never to assume a diagnosis within the SOP. For example instead of using the terminology ‘fractured’ which assumes a diagnosis, the words swelling and bruising could be used. It is also important to remember that only vets can prescribe, so only specific drugs at set doses under a specific set of circumstances can be given within an SOP, and any member of staff who is not a vet should never be put in a position where they have a selection of drugs to choose from.

Many other ‘grey areas’ were discussed within this webinar including the employment of nurses within wildlife centres, prescribing and storage of drugs, euthanasia, the signing of off-licence forms and the use of telephone and email advice to fill gaps between following directions given from an SOP and actually getting a vet to examine an animal.
This veterinary webinar organised by ‘The Webinar Vet’ complemented the previous session led by Michael Stanford in March, both of which help vets to navigate their way through the ‘minefield’ of treating wildlife within the law. Liz’s webinar has a strong bias towards ‘real life’ practicalities and definitely falls into the ‘practice viewing’ category which would benefit not only vets but the whole practice team who all play a vital role in dealing with wildlife centres and wildlife casualties.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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