Forensic Veterinary Medicine? UFlorida Launches New "CSI: Animal Edition" Program for Animal Abuse Investigation

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by Fran Jurga 18 January 2009 The Jurga Report on


CSI: Vet Edition? This isn't television. And it's certainly not "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective".

In this real-life drama, you'll find necropsies, assessment of skeletal remains for abuse and trauma, and crime scene analysis of hair, fibers and bloodstains. But this forensic evidence will be used to solve cases of cruelty to animals, not humans.

University of Florida officials announced recently that they are partnering with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to form the first Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program dedicated to the teaching, research and application of forensic science in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against animals. The program will handle cases from around the country ? possibly up to 200 within the first two years ? and provide consultancy and training.

The collaboration between the university and the ASPCA started a year ago, when the two institutions organized a conference on the use of forensic science to investigate animal cruelty. Coordinators expected only a few dozen attendees, but instead were met by nearly 200 people from across the United States and nine other countries. That unanticipated interest helped fuel the development of the new program.

Over the last few years, the number and stringency of laws relating to animal cruelty has increased. Penalties can include extended prison time, such as in the high-profile dog fighting case involving professional football player Michael Vick.

There is no national tracking of animal cruelty cases ? the new Veterinary Forensics Sciences Program will allow for better collection of such data. Each year the ASPCA investigates more than 5,000 cruelty cases and arrests or issues summonses to more than 300 people. Scenarios include simple neglect, abandonment, animal hoarding and blood sports such as dog fighting. On the basis of media accounts, the animal advocacy Web site reports 1,620 high profile cases in 2008.

The new program at University of Florida will offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses and continuing education for veterinarians, law enforcement personnel, animal control officers and others. Courses include forensic entomology, buried-remains excavation, bloodstain pattern analysis, bite-mark analysis and animal crime scene processing. Trainings will be done in classroom settings, online and through the just-formed International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association. Real prosecutors and media professionals will take part to enhance the learning experience.

Often, veterinarians presented with cases of animal abuse or neglect are not sure what to look for to establish cause and manner of death, or to prove that a crime was committed. But that's about to change, thanks to this new program.

This blog post is based on an article supplied by the University of Florida.