Call it "CSI: Animal Edition."

But this isn't television. In this real-life drama, necropsies, assessment of skeletal remains for abuse and trauma, and crime scene analysis of hair, fibers, and bloodstains are used to solve cases of cruelty to animals.

University of Florida (UF) officials announced Jan. 15 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 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.

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

The Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program will dramatically increase the number of professionals trained in forensic investigation of animal cruelty cases.

Housed at the Maples Center, the program is being established with an initial gift of $150,000 and a commitment of support for the next three years from the ASPCA.

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.

"Veterinarians are frequently asked to participate in cruelty investigations, yet we don't receive special training on that in veterinary school," said Julie Levy, DVM, PhD, director of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida. "There is a substantial unmet need for that training to be provided to veterinarians."

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 new International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association.

Read about a real forensic investigation into a case of alleged equine cruelty.  

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