Book Review- Dr Catherine Tiplady’s book “Animal Abuse: Helping animals and people”



Review by Dr Rosemary Elliott


We are very proud of the recent release of one of our members, Dr Catherine Tiplady's, book, ‘Animal abuse: Helping animals and people’. Exec member Dr Rosemary Elliott had the pleasure of reviewing the book.


‘Animal abuse: Helping animals and people’ by veterinarian Dr Catherine Tiplady could otherwise have been entitled ‘Everything you need to know about animal abuse that vet school never taught you’.  In her preface, Catherine, who was featured as our member of the month in July’s newsletter, describes the traumatising and lonely experience of witnessing extreme animal abuse while working in an animal welfare organisation. This was heightened by the failure of veterinary training to prepare her for dealing with such abuse, particularly its interface with human interpersonal violence, or to address the mental health of veterinarians, who as a profession are at high-risk of suicide. It is a testament to Catherine’s fortitude that she harnessed her own growing disillusionment with the profession into writing the book she needed to read, a book about working with animal abuse. Written with deep sensitivity and emotional honesty, flawlessly researched and driven by the conviction that it is unacceptable to do nothing about animal suffering, this is the most comprehensive review of the area I have seen. 


Catherine sections the book by defining the problem, outlining the multiple forms of animal abuse in culture and society, describing programs to help the people involved, providing practical strategies to help the animals involved, introducing the reader to the science of forensic veterinary investigation and publishing interviews with eight professionals who work with animal abuse (including veterinarians, animal campaigners, lawyers and a television journalist). Although written with veterinarians in mind, this book is essential reading for all animal advocates.  It strikes the balance between educating the reader about the history and extent of animal abuse in society (even film making and art are addressed), reflecting on the factors contributing to abuse and providing practical guidance for helping animals and people.  


Catherine’s veterinary voice is strong, but she takes an interdisciplinary approach as befitting any societal problem, including contributions from an impressive range of professionals from veterinary science, animal welfare organisations, animal therapy, academia, crimes investigation, law, interpersonal violence and mental health.  The tone is compassionate but always measured, which allows Catherine to delve into painful issues, often graphically, whilst ‘holding’ the reader with her presence. The question of who might animal abusers be has some shocking answers for those prepared to hear – children who are themselves abused, legally sanctioned abuse within agricultural and research systems, even veterinarians  – and yet Catherine resists simplistic explanations in favour of reflecting on the broader social issues, such as whether animal abuse inevitably progresses to human abuse.  The tone and her own credentials as a clinician allow her to name the issues many veterinarians struggle with in their practice – lack of emotional support, pressure to perform ‘convenience euthanasia’, the abuse of animals within some veterinary practices (due to inadequate analgesia, aggressive use of restraints or poorly performed surgery) and the cycle of bullying within the profession, which effectively silences those with complaints about animal welfare. 


The section outlining the forms of animal abuse in culture and society is at times difficult to read, and the author warns of graphic accompanying images. Yet the strength of this book is in its balance between awareness raising and a reassurance that change is possible. An example is the story of Britches, a macaque who was kept in a laboratory where his eyelids were sewn together until being rescued illegally by animal activists. The most moving photo in this book is arguably that of Britches in his rehabilitation centre, where he lived until the age of 20. This story raises the question of who the real extremists are. Further assumptions about activists are challenged, for instance by the quotation from a senior investigator of Compassion in World Farming who claims that undercover activism is the only way the truth about factory farming can be exposed. Catherine also highlights the power of social media in promoting animal activism, whilst challenging the stereotype of activists as ‘creating their own spin’, citing the use of peer reviewed scientific research by groups such as Humane Research Australia.


This book should be mandatory reading for academics developing the curriculum in veterinary education. It offers a richness that would better prepare students for their chosen vocation, such as an appreciation of the human-animal bond and its therapeutic applications. It also describes alarming but familiar scenes of disrespectful treatment by veterinary students towards animals used in teaching, and questions whether this bravado culture arises from an attempt to use humour to cope with the stress of training. It is impossible to read this book without reflecting on our own experiences or challenging the way things have always been, and this includes the teaching and learning environment.  I wondered about the effectiveness of conscientious objections policies in a culture where students are rated for ‘enthusiasm’ in their practical classes? And where the impetus for using ethically sourced cadavers and other humane teaching methods will arise from when veterinary students become increasingly desensitised to animal suffering as they progress through their training? As well as highlighting these problems, Catherine offers solutions, such as outlining a programme for veterinary students to learn rectal palpation in cattle based on the 3 R’s, citing evidence that preliminary use of a simulator improved performance with live rectal palpation. 


‘Animal abuse’ can be used as a practical resource as well as a reference, and would be an ideal textbook for students of veterinary science, veterinary nursing or related animal care fields. It provides guidance on how to report suspected animal abuse, and how to assist when presented with human/animal violence in the consult room, based on Catherine’s collaboration with an expert practitioner in the field of interpersonal violence. There is a much needed section on the personal side of dealing with animal abuse, covering ‘compassion fatigue’, self-care and safety. The behavioural consequences of animal abuse and remedies for these are outlined, including humane methods of euthanasia where necessary, with case studies and invaluable input from veterinary behaviour consultant Dr Cam Day. 


After reading this book from cover to cover, I have learned more about animal abuse then I ever knew before. On a personal level, I was both reassured by the honest admission that animal work can be inherently sad and stressful at times, and inspired by the encouragement to use this as motivation to advocate for animals whilst engaging in self-care. And on that note, the book offers the following life affirming tips for animal advocates encapsulated in the acronym ACTIVE - – Allow yourself to be human and have a break, Create a file of your achievements, Talk to other animal advocates, Ignore upsetting images and reports until you feel stronger, Visit an animal sanctuary and spend time with the animals you are helping, and Exercise! 


‘Animal Abuse’ was published in 2013 by CAB International. 


The Kindle edition can be purchased here, and is currently on sale!