Editor's note: There are dozens of newspapers across the state of Kentucky. Each Tuesday, this space will be dedicated to what one of those papers thinks about the issues facing their communities and this state.

Kentucky is a state where people cherish their animals -- fur babies is a term that is used lovingly.

In Pulaski County, the animal shelter has made great strides in getting dogs and cats into "forever homes" and the humane society is extremely active in our community.

It's a little strange that Kentucky veterinarians are currently prohibited by law from reporting abuse of animals under their care unless they have the permission of the animal's owner or are under a court order.

Thankfully, the Kentucky General Assembly is working to change that.

Legislation that would untie veterinarians' hands to report animal abuse passed out of the State Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this month.

We think it's high time that our animal-loving Commonwealth pulled itself in line with other states on this matter.

"Kentucky is the only state where the veterinarian cannot report," said Dr. Jim Weber, the legislative chair of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association (KVMA). "In every other state in the country, a veterinarian either 'may' or 'shall' report."

The measure, known as Senate Bill 21, would allow veterinarians to report the abuse of animals under their care, said Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, who sponsored the legislation.

Weber said the KVMA supports language in SB 21, which would allow veterinarians to use their best judgment when reporting suspected animal abuse. He said it is his preference to educate an animal owner on proper care rather than report something to police.

There is some blowback, however, on a second provision of SB 21 that would grant veterinarians immunity in court for reporting any alleged abuse.

Weber said the immunity clause would remove a veterinarian's fear that they could be sued simply for reporting suspected abuse.

Quite frankly, we agree. If a veterinarian's call to law enforcement saves one animal's life, then it's worth the risk of a misguided report.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, makes a valid point: He says veterinarians are often small business owners who would not make frivolous reports.

"It seems to me there is a good balance in this bill," he said. "Veterinarians are not going to abuse it because they don't want their business to be harmed, but on the flip side there is the immunity from prosecution for doing the right thing."

As Weber pointed out to the committee, this is not just an animal rights bill -- it's a public safety bill.

Federal government research has drawn some strong conclusions on co-occurring animal abuse and interpersonal violence, including domestic, child and elder abuses. Weber added that such findings have led to calls for greater coordination between human and animal welfare organizations to identify abusers and get help to the victims - whether human or animal.

This is strong legislation that will not only protect helpless animals, but also aid law enforcement in identifying some very bad people.

-- Commonwealth Journal, Somerset

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