Animal forensics program forming

Published: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 11:06 p.m.

The crime show "CSI" has spawned a television empire. Now there's a new program in the making, set in Gainesville, that might be called "CSI: Animal Edition."

The program won't be on television, and it won't feature human crime victims. Instead, it will solve cases of cruelty against animals, using analysis of skeletal remains and crime scene evidence of hair, fiber and bloodstains.

The University of Florida will partner with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to form the first program dedicated to the teaching, research and application of forensic science in investigating and prosecuting crimes against animals.

Creators of the Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program expect to handle as many as 200 cases from around the country in the first two years.

Details of the program were presented at the North American Veterinary Conference this weekend.

"This is a newly emerging field," said forensic toxicologist Bruce Goldberger, who directs UF's William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine. "We are translating our knowledge of forensic science to a new field devoted to solving crimes against animals."

Housed in the Maples Center, the program is getting off the ground thanks to a $150,000 gift and commitment of support for the next three years from the ASPCA.

Randall Lockwood, ASPCA senior vice president for anti-cruelty field services, has seen more and stricter laws passed each year relating to animal cruelty, with penalties that can include prison time.

"That means the standards of investigations and of the science used in documenting what has happened to animals are much, much higher than even five years ago," Lockwood said.

Each year the ASPCA investigates more than 5,000 cruelty cases and arrests or issues summonses to more than 300 people.

Often it is a veterinarian who is presented with a case that could involve animal abuse or neglect. And just as often, the vet is not sure what to look for to establish the cause and manner of death, or to prove that a crime was committed.

"As veterinarians, we are frequently asked to participate in cruelty investigations, yet we don't receive special training in vet school," said Dr. Julie Levy, director of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at UF.

The new program will help to meet "a substantial unmet need for that training," Levy said.

UF will offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses and continuing education for vets, law enforcement personnel, animal control officers and others.

Courses will include forensic entomology, buried remains excavation, bloodstain pattern analysis, bite-mark analysis and animal crime scene processing.

Training will be done in the classroom, online and through the just-formed International Veterinary Forensics Sciences Association.

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