Animal As the Cause

area, veterinary forensic sciences cannot use the human forensic field for guidance (Bailey, 2016). A forensic veterinarian may need to act as a veterinarian triaging and treating animals at a crime scene as well as being a forensic expert. In human forensics, each professional has their specific role, even though they are part of a larger team of investigators. A forensic veterinarian is also part of a forensic team; however, their roles are more diverse.

Application of Veterinary Forensic Sciences to Legal Investigations

Animals may be involved in legal issues in two distinct ways: they may be the victim (i.e., object) of the animal abuse, or the instigator (i.e., the subject) where the animal causes the incident (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). In veterinary forensic sciences, the veterinarian needs powers of observation (detective) and the ability to assess clinical findings with history and background information to establish a whole picture of an animal’s involvement (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Basic principles of forensic investigation regarding meticulous record-keeping, systematic examination, and correct treatment of material are identical, regardless of whether the victim is a human or an animal.

The Animal Victim

Animal injuries may be accidental or malicious and may involve attacks (predation), unnatural acts, and mutilations. There are a multitude of injuries and/or insults that can be inflicted on animals by humans. These are forms of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse (Arkow & Munro, 2008; Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Physical injuries may result from trauma, heat, cold, placement in water, and so on; usually these are unintentional but may include “nonaccidental injury’’ (NAI) (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Injuries resulting from a sexual insult may be from attempted animal sexual abuse, or surgical or malicious destruction of urogenital regions. These may be true sexual abuse or veterinary husbandry/surgical practices (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). A third insult, not recognized legally in most instances, is psychological in nature. This may result from threatening or teasing an animal or depriving an animal of companionship, or unsuitable social groupings (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). There are now behavioral studies being conducted by forensic animal behaviorists regarding animal hoarding situations documenting these types of psychological effects (McMillan et al., 2011). In addition, forensic animal behaviorists have performed work with fighting pit bulls, establishing behaviors specific to animals that have been trained to fight. This area is wide open, and there is potential for future laws involving emotional (psychological) abuse. Any of the above abusive activities may result in injury, health concerns, pain/distress, or even death. These implications vary depending on the species and the surrounding circumstances (Cooper & Cooper, 2007).


Injuries caused by animals can include bites from domestic and wild species, trauma, stings, and hypersensitivity (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Animals can infect humans with pathogenic organisms leading to a variety of zoonotic diseases. Animals may cause damage or disrupt human activity in many ways. These may include:

■ Damage to property, i.e., livestock knocking down fences or damaging a vehicle while escaping confinement, birds destroying crops

■ Noise, i.e., dogs barking, roosters crowing

■ Smell, i.e., dairy or feedlots in close proximity to a residential neighborhood

■ Allergens, i.e., sensitivity to fur or feathers

■ Fear; general fear of animals, i.e., cats (ailurophobia) (Cooper & Cooper, 2007)


Bites involve the discovery and investigation of wounds. Bites can occur within a species with unsupervised contact and directed at humans. Animals bite one another when they fight. This may be grounds for criminal or civil action if the animal victim is someone’s property. Bites from domestic dogs and cats are the most common and arguably the most litigious form (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Bites, scratches, and injuries are always a consideration when working with domesticated, free living, or wild species (Cooper & Cooper, 2007). Animal bites inflicted on humans provide an excellent example of when medical and veterinary professionals work together (Cooper & Cooper, 2007).


Zoonoses are diseases transmitted between animals and humans (Green, 2011). Zoonotic diseases are highly important in forensic medicine. The occurrence or dissemination of a zoonotic disease can constitute a crime, especially if risk assessments have been disregarded, and can be cause for civil action, insurance claims, or allegations of veterinary negligence (Cooper & Cooper, 2007).

Zoonosis can be categorized in various ways, but a practical approach suggested by Cooper and Cooper (2007) for court purposes is divided into three groups:

  • 1. Diseases hazardous to both humans and animals, i.e., rabies, anthrax, avian influenza.
  • 2. Disease that rarely affects animal health overall, but may result in serious disease in humans, i.e., brucellosis, salmonella.
  • 3. Diseases responsible for severe epizootics (epidemics) in domestic or wild animals but rarely impairing humans, i.e., foot-and-mouth disease, Newcastle disease.

Another zoonotic concern is the possible spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from domestic animals to humans and vice versa. MRSA has been observed in dogs, cats, and horses (Cooper & Cooper, 2007; Green, 2011). This has been observed by the author in animal hoarding situations and can become a legal issue in regard to public health.

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