Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society

University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine | 3800 Spruce St. Phildelphia, PA 19106 | Phone: 215.898.5438
Center for the interaction of Animals and Society
School of Veterinary Medicine,   University of Pennsylvania
Dr. James A. Serpell, Director
Seventh Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Relations with Animals and the Natural W orld

How Can Our Legal System Evaluate Alleged Cruelty by Animal Caregivers?


James F. Wilson, DVM., JD.

Priority Veterinary Management Consultants, Yardley, PA 19067

Most state statutes have archaic, incomplete or vague definitions as to what actions constitute animal abuse or cruelty. Under these statutes, it is difficult to determine whether animal owners or other parties have engaged in the animal cruelty alleged in such criminal actions. The process of determining guilt becomes even more difficult when it involves allegations of cruelty against animal caretakers such as veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal trainers, and humane officers. In these situations one must determine whether injury to the caregiver or other staff members at the facility was possible and whether the restraint techniques exceeded the standards for humane restraint.

To date no standards have been published that courts can use to evaluate the conduct of caregivers in a systematic fashion. Furthermore, there are no methods available to decide whether or not a threshold has been achieved that would support a conviction of animal cruelty. This presentation will present the work of the speaker and other participants who have drafted restraint standards that could be used by courts to acquit or convict people in the animal industry of crimes involving animal cruelty.


After graduating from veterinary school at Iowa State and law school at UCLA, Jim Wilson practiced small animal medicine in California for 13 years until moving to Pennsylvania in 1986 where he served two years as Medical Director at the University of Pennsylvania's small animal hospital. A prolific veterinary management consultant, speaker and author, he teaches law, ethics, and practice management at 10 veterinary schools and multiple national and international veterinary association meetings each year. In 1997 Drs. Wilson and Larry McCormick, DVM, MBA, CBA formed a management consulting and practice appraisal business called Priority Veterinary Management Consultants. Dr. Wilson has published a 550-page textbook entitled Law and Ethics of the Veterinary Profession and 112 articles in various veterinary journals. In 1996 he received the Student AVMA's "Teacher of the Year Award for North America." Dr. Wilson's newest book, a 450-page Employment Contracts, Employee Benefits, and Practice Management for the Veterinary Profession, was published in 1999.