Below are a few questions that have been asked by IVMA members over the last few months. Answers are provided below. As always, though, consult your own legal counsel for specific legal advice.
Question: How long do I have to keep animal health records?
Answer: You must keep animal health records for three (3) years after the last encounter with the animal.
Note that it is important to document, document, document. Further, it is appropriate to include in the animal health record communication you have with the client regarding treatment options and if diagnostics were offered or recommended, if referral was offered or recommended, and if the client refused the recommended diagnostics, treatment plan, or referral.
Question: What are veterinarians obligated to do regarding finding a microchip in an animal? What do we have to do if we have a client with a new animal and we scan to see if there is a microchip in the animal indicating a previous owner?
Answer: Under Indiana law, “although many pets are beloved by their owners, they remain property.” Lachenman v. Stice, 838 N.E.2d 451, 461 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005). Generally, when a person finds a lost dog, that person acquires good title as against all the world but acquires no title as against the true owner. Rittenhouse v. Knoop, 9 Ind. App. 126, 36 N.E. 384 (1894). What this means is that the finder of lost property, or a pet, would be the owner of the property to everyone except the person who lost the property. However, if property is abandoned, the prior owner divests their rights to claim the property in the future. Whiskey Barrel Platers Co., Inc. v. American GardenWorks, Inc., 996 N.E.2d 711, 722 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012).
“Abandonment has been defined as the relinquishment of property to which a person is entitled, with no purpose of again claiming it, and without concern as to who may subsequently take possession….” Right Reason Publications v. Silva, 691 N.E.2d 1347, 1351 (Ind.Ct.App.1998) (quoting Schaffner v. Benson, 90 Ind.App. 420, 423–24, 166 N.E. 881, 883 (1929)). To constitute an abandonment of property, there must be a concurrence of the intention to abandon and an actual relinquishment. Id. “An intention to abandon property … may be inferred as a fact from the surrounding circumstances, and it can be shown by acts and conduct clearly inconsistent with any intention to retain and continue the use or ownership of the property….”
Unfortunately, we do not have access to the American Veterinarian Medical Association guidelines on microchipping as the page no longer exists. However, in a 2014 article by Veterinary Practice News, then-assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs of the AVMA, Adrian Hochstadt, stated:
“Veterinarians cannot be expected to investigate or resolve ownership disputes over an animal, but should ask for documentation of ownership in circumstances that raise suspicion that the presenting person may not actually be the lawful owner of the animal.” The revised guidelines also state that if a microchip implant is detected that the client isn’t aware of, the veterinarian should inform the client of this fact, provide the client with contact information for the microchip database company, and encourage the client to contact that company.
Lynn A. Hayner, Microchips Open Murky Legal Waters, But AVMA Still Urges Practice, Veterinary Practice News (Feb. 3, 2014) https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/microchips-open-murky-legal-waters-but-avma-still-urges-the-practice/. We agree with this position – it is not the place of a veterinarian to investigate and resolve ownership disputes that may arise out of the discovery of an unknown microchip. It may be appropriate to ask for proof of ownership or adoption if there is any suspicion as to the true ownership. If a microchip is detected which the client is unaware of, as previously recommended by the AVMA, the veterinarian should inform the client of this fact, provide the client with contact information for the microchip database company, and encourage the client to contact that company. However, to avoid any legal repercussions, the veterinarian may also request the client to sign a waiver and indemnification if a prior owner attempts to sue the veterinarian. We have provided a form below to use for these purposes.