The Forensic Veterinarian Today

A forensic veterinary practitioner today is much like the pathologist in Spilsbury’s time, or at least it seems so in the author’s experience. No one forensic veterinarian or forensic veterinary pathologist can know everything, however they are the veterinary professionals usually in tune with surrounding needs and events in animal forensic matters. The forensic veterinarian may be asked to consult on state veterinary examining board matters involving malpractice or misconduct. Regarding endangered or wildlife resources, if wildlife is injured or killed in a questionable manner a forensic veterinarian may be sought. In civil matters, the author has been involved in multiple cases. The forensic veterinarian is a conduit (facilitator of contacts and information) in many legal matters involving animals. The author has been contacted by different law enforcement agencies to consult on various cases involving diverse types of species. The forensic veterinarian is usually involved in their community/state at multiple levels. They may be contacted by fellow veterinarians, humane investigators, law enforcement agencies, or lawyers. The forensic veterinarian may become directly involved in a case as a sole expert witness, work with veterinary boarded specialists, and may work with a forensic veterinary pathologist or forensic experts from other disciplines. The forensic veterinarian will have a solid knowledge of local, state, and federal laws regarding animal legal issues. An experienced forensic veterinarian will have a plethora of contacts within veterinary medicine including pathologists, species experts, and board certified veterinarians. On the other side, they will also have contacts within law enforcement and in the human forensic arena in areas including forensic odontology, blood spatter analysis, ballistics, tool mark experts, and so on (Figure 2.1).

An example of this was a case of burglary where the family dog was missing and only a large amount of blood remained (Bradley & Zannin, 2015). The author was contacted by a police detective. A blood analyst was contacted and recruited via the author for the case. Based on blood volume and patterns at the scene and a review of current veterinary medical records (dog weight), the dog may have been alive when it was taken from the scene and had sustained multiple stab wounds. Additional felony animal abuse charges were pursued against the suspect in the absence of an animal body.

In Italy in 2011, a man and his dog were struck and killed by a vehicle. The driver stated that the man and his dog were illegally crossing the road in front of him when he struck them. A medical

Schematic for a veterinary forensic sciences investigation

Humane investigator Law enforcement

Forensic veterinarian

Forensic veterinary pathologist

Triage patient & Treat Necropsy

Crime scene investigation

Evidence collection

Interface with other forensic disciplines


Crime scene analysts

Figure 2.1 Diagram of the process of a typical veterinary forensic sciences investigation. (Courtesy of L. Siemens.)

examiner and a veterinary pathologist were jointly consulted in this case. In both postmortem examinations the driver’s story was not adding up. Both the man and the dog had sustained injuries from behind, not from the side. A more detailed examination of the crime scene demonstrated that the car had actually left the roadway and drove over the sidewalk path on which the man and the dog were walking when they were struck from behind. The driver had moved the bodies into the street further down the roadway, altering the crime scene. The joint forensic efforts of both professions were instrumental in solving this crime (Aquila et al., 2014). The author receives calls and questions on a regular monthly basis that involve putting the correct veterinarians and human forensic experts in contact with one another. This may be simply suggesting a forensic necropsy be performed, involve a visit to a crime scene, or court testimony.

Comparing Veterinary Forensic Sciences to Human Forensic Sciences

Forensic science as applied to human crime investigation is very specialized, and the related sciences extend well beyond the pathologist. This includes crime scene analysis to analytical and laboratory disciplines (Bailey, 2016). Forensic science is still a novelty in the veterinary world and is dependent on human forensic disciplines as it becomes an established discipline itself. The most significant difference between human and veterinary forensic sciences is the former is physical but inanimate and may consist of any form of physical evidence such as fingerprint imaging or metal fragments, while in veterinary forensic science the evidence can be “living.” This characteristic of veterinary forensic science cannot be replicated or learned from human forensic studies. Veterinary evidence can become sick, die, may be dead, or has been killed. Animal evidence may improve or decline in health. Living evidence is a foreign concept in human forensic sciences (Bailey, 2016). Forensic evidence can be bagged, labeled, and stored for long durations prior to trial, but not animals. Animals are sentient beings needing to eat, drink, relieve themselves, and live. In this

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