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Decision making
Comments on the dilemma in the November/December issue: ‘Tethered dog dies’
  1. Freddie Marshall


The dilemma in the November/December issue concerned a vet who transported a dog between clinics in the boot of an estate car (In Practice, November/December 2010, volume 32, pages 514–515). The animal was secured with a lead, but on arrival it was found dead, trapped with the lead around its neck. The noises the dog had been making seemed to be agitation, and when they stopped the vet assumed the dog had gone to sleep. Pippa Swan commented that it could be assumed that the cause of death was strangulation and that the dog had suffered. It might have been a tragic misjudgement, but that could not absolve the vet's responsibility for the animal. A possible way forward would be to consider whether a vet who had behaved in this way should be judged more harshly than a member of the public. While vets should know the consequences of tying up a dog without proper supervision, they were also human and could make mistakes. Were the incident to be reported, the consequences for the vet might not stop at going to court; the RCVS Disciplinary Committee might decide that the vet was guilty of serious professional misconduct. If there was no evidence that the behaviour had any implications for future conduct, a decision for no further action, or a warning or reprimand might be sufficient.

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Freddie Marshall, Lake House, 2 Lake View, Wakefield WF2 7SN

The ethical arguments outlined in this everyday ethics case applied only to a dog that had suffered, but why is it assumed that a dog which died of asphyxia ‘suffered’? There is a danger of descending into tabloid journalism where anyone suffering mild pain is ‘in agony’. I once lost consciousness in a meeting due to unwittingly cutting off my carotid artery supplies and starving my brain of oxygen. I was wearing a collar and tie, and turned my head to look at something while leaning my head on the hand of the elbow that was resting on the table. There was no pain – just embarrassment.

Surely we would only say the dog had suffered if it was in some distress for a reasonable length of time. It seems surprising then that if the dog in this case did in fact suffer, it did not create enough noise for the driver (vet or layperson) to become aware of its suffering. I suspect, once unconscious, the dog would have changed position and blocked the airway and remained silent; alternatively, it may have recovered consciousness and become audible, but not loudly enough to overcome the sound of the engine. In either case, would there be ‘suffering’?

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at}


THIS series gives readers the opportunity to consider and contribute to discussion of some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise in veterinary practice. Each month, a case scenario is presented, followed by discussion of some of the issues involved. In addition, a possible way forward is suggested; however, there is rarely a cut-and-dried answer in such cases, and readers may wish to suggest an alternative approach. This month's dilemma, ‘Farm cat with TB’, is presented and discussed by Martha Cannon. Readers with comments to contribute are invited to send them as soon as possible, so that they can be considered for publication in the next issue. Discussion of the dilemma ‘Tethered dog dies’, which was published in the November/December issue of In Practice, appears on page 47.

The series is being coordinated by Siobhan Mullan, of the University of Bristol. It is hoped it will provide a framework that will help practices find solutions when facing similar dilemmas.

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