Today I awoke to the tragic and for me, incomprehensible, news of the death of my former boss and mentor, George Bengal. It has forced me to confront something I never foresaw or expected, and even when the warnings came, it still never seemed real.
George embodied vitality and energy. He took care of himself religiously, going to the gym and watching what he ate. I used to tease him about the slime-green, hideous-looking drinks he would bring to work, but that was him (that attentiveness to his health is why this was so shocking). He radiated dedication and enthusiasm. I used to hear his voice down the hall from his office, shouting to his officers or laughing about a joke. He was passionate and inspiring. To me, he was larger than life.
I ask myself now, as I’ve asked myself mentally since I first heard of his diagnosis: how do you say goodbye to someone like that? How do you say goodbye to someone who has figured so prominently in your life for so long, been the reason you are where you are and are doing what you are doing, been the source of so much emotion, both good and bad? He and I clashed mightily over numerous issues. There was animosity and frustration, fear and skepticism, and, of course, respect and admiration. In the end, I believe we formed a bond of an indescribable kind – developed from working alongside each other and from learning, not from preconceived notions or second-hand knowledge or gossip. I know that the bad is fleeting and temporary; the good is permanent.
He took a stand for things he felt were right and didn’t back down. That obstinance was a source of animosity for some, and inspiration for others. I put myself in the latter category. He showed me different ways of looking at things and caused me to reconsider preconceived notions. His determination was a source of strength. He faced on a daily basis what most people would turn a blind eye to or refuse to acknowledge. You can read more about George here: http://www.fox29.com/news/145568011-story. There are so many things to say, but I just can’t find the words right now.
Perhaps the best thing is not to ask how to say goodbye. Just say “until later”. Someday I may get to hear your ringtone, “Moves like Jagger” again. And I can say all the things I didn’t get to say. But maybe then none of it will matter anymore. Until later… I will keep up the fight for you. Until later… I will laugh about the fun memories. Until later… I will always think of you as a mentor and friend. An inspiration. A hero.
Until later, George. You will be missed, and my world will be a little dimmer.
To donate to the George Bengal Fund to keep up the fight for animals: http://pspca.org/support-us/the-george-bengal-fund/
Posted in Animal Abuse/Neglect, Animal cruelty, Animals, Cats, CSI, Dogs, Forensics, Humane Law Enforcement, Investigations, Law Enforcement, Pets, Sadness & Anger, Veterinary Forensics
Tagged Animal abuse, Animal cruelty, animals, CSI, Forensics, George Bengal, Humane Law Enforcement, pets, shelter dogs, SPCA, Veterinary Forensics
The Maples Center for Forensic Medicine, University of Florida College of Medicine has announced a new Graduate Certificate Program in Wildlife Forensic Sciences. This program is designed for wildlife conservation officers, fish and game officials, law enforcement officers, forensic investigators, and academic students in wildlife ecology and conservation, although anyone with an interest in these courses can take them.
On completion of the 9-credit certificate program, students will receive a University of Florida Certificate in Wildlife Forensic Sciences. This certificate program is open to appropriately qualified local, national, and international students.
And guess what? It’s my program! I’ve been busy getting the courses together for some time now. I’m very excited that registration is open and that the classes will begin in January… hopefully this is the beginning of some great things. This Thanksgiving, I’m happy for this new opportunity!
Stay tuned for updates.
Check out the program and register for courses here: http://wildlife.forensics.med.ufl.edu/
Posted in Animal cruelty, Animals, Conservation, Crime, CSI, Endangered Species, Environment, Environmental Crime, Veterinary Forensics, Wildlife, Wildlife Forensics
Tagged Animal abuse, Animal cruelty, animals, Career, CITES, Conservation, Crime, CSI, Endangered Species, Environmental Crimes, Forensics, Poaching, Smuggling, Veterinary Forensics, Wildlife, Wildlife Forensics
Sometimes it’s so hard to do this job. Some days are so bad I can’t sleep. The horrible things I see every day – the cruelty, the neglect, the lack of empathy, the ignorance, the disregard for life – make me wonder if I can keep my sanity. I wrote about all of this before, in this post. But then I do what I did tonight. I walk through the shelter and look. Really look.
At the faces. At the names. I make eye contact. I reach through the cages and scratch them. I talk to them. I watch their reactions. And I smile again.
Yes, it’s sad seeing them like this, behind bars and glass. But I know their stories. I know where they came from. In some cases I’ve been to where they’ve come from and seen just how bad it was. Some of them I watched hobble in on the end of an officer’s leash, barely alive, skin and bones, starving, beaten, left out like trash. But then I see them after treatment, after plenty of medicine and food and hugs, and they are happy. And it feels a little bit better.
They are the reasons I keep doing this. The tears I cry when no one is looking are for them. I try to remember them all. Like Sparkle, who I wrote about here. Sometimes I feel that I am the only one who will remember them when they are gone, and it is my mission to do it. They all matter. They shouldn’t be forgotten.
When I wonder if I made the right choices in life, as I discussed in my last post, I can pull out their pictures in my mind. This is not an easy life, or one that will make me rich, or powerful, or bring me admiration. But it’s one I can be proud of. I may not be able to change the world, but I can do what I can. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like enough. But I know that I helped change the world for some of them. And for right now, that’s okay.
These are the photos I snapped tonight. I will remember. Will you?
Posted in Animal Abuse/Neglect, Animal cruelty, Animals, Career change, Cats, Dogs, Getting older, Humane Law Enforcement, Jobs, Pets, Post A Week, Sadness & Anger, Veterinary Forensics
Tagged Animal abuse, Animal cruelty, animals, Cats, dogs, Humane Law Enforcement, pets, Post A Week, shelter dogs, SPCA, Veterinary Forensics
Happy 4th of July!
In celebration of this holiday, I’d like to share two recent, happy stories from the ASPCA:
The last week in June saw a judge in Florida rule in favor of turing over ownership of 700 cats to local authorities, rather than have them return to the sanctuary where they were housed. Thanks to the court order, they are one step closer to finding good forever homes and will never have to return to the filthy environment they were confiscated from – an overwhelmed “rescue” called Caboodle Ranch that could not (and would not, in some cases) provide the necessary care for the animals housed on site. The judge also “prohibited Caboodle Ranch from acquiring any more animals, ensuring that no more cats fall victim to hoarding there” (aspca.org).
Caboodle Ranch (photo courtesy of animalhoardinginfo.blogspot.com)
Read about the Caboodle Ranch investigation and rescue (which occurred this past February) by following this link (there’s a great video with on-the-ground footage – I was happy to see many familiar faces from the IVFSA conferences I’ve attended!): http://www.aspca.org/Fight-Animal-Cruelty/aspca-in-action/madison-county-florida-february-2012
Also in June, the ASPCA, along with NYPD Vice Enforcement Division and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, rescued 50 dogs “ranging in age from 12 weeks to five years, found living in the windowless basement of a six-story apartment building in the Bronx. The space, which served as a makeshift dog fighting arena, was littered with crude wooden cages and had the capacity for roughly 100 spectators. Raul Sanchez, the building’s superintendant, was taken into custody and charged with animal fighting, a felony. Also discovered on scene were a loaded .25-caliber handgun, U.S. currency, and other equipment associated with dog fighting—including dog treadmills, harnesses, muzzles, syringes and a shopping cart full of raw chicken parts” (aspca.org)
Bronx Dog Fighting Raid (photo courtesy of ASPCA)
Read about the rescue here: http://blog.aspca.org/content/aspca-rescues-50-dogs-bronx-dog-fighting-case
These victories prove we CAN make a difference! Let’s keep up the good work, and LET FREEDOM RING!
P.S. More dogs (cats too!) go missing on July 4 than any other day of the year. Fireworks scare animals! Keep your pets safe this holiday!
Posted in Animal Abuse/Neglect, Animal cruelty, Animals, Cats, Crime, Criminal Law, CSI, Dogs, Forensics, Hoarding, Humane Law Enforcement, Investigations, Law Enforcement, Pets, Post A Week, Veterinary Forensics
Tagged Animal abuse, Animal cruelty, animals, Cats, CSI, dogs, Forensics, Hoarding, Humane Law Enforcement, investigation, pets, shelter dogs, SPCA, Veterinary Forensics
Third and last day of the conference. It’s bittersweet at the end of these events. I’m sad to leave a community of colleagues all passionate about the same things, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it and happy that I leave with a brain full of information and new insights. When I’m faced with professional adversity I will try to keep the memories of the good feelings I had at the conference with me.
The morning of the third day a woman from the US War Dogs Association spoke to us about the organization and their efforts to secure medals of honor and memorials for the fallen canine officers. It was very moving. Following this, a pathologist from the medical examiner’s office presented on animals involved in some of the cases she has worked – VERY graphic pictures but equally interesting – did you know that Miami-Dade County experiences the most horse slaughter in the country?
Dr. Randy Lockwood from the ASPCA gave an extremely heart-wrenching talk regarding Phoenix – a dog who was doused in gasoline and set on fire by two brothers in Baltimore. Dr. Lockwood was called to consult on the case. I was in tears as he described the incident – how there was surveillance video of two boys (they were not yet 18-years-old at the time of the incident) kicking a dog who approached them in an alley, then leading the dog somewhere off camera; a few minutes later the video showed the same boys running out of the alley, followed by a dog running, engulfed in flames. A Baltimore police officer on routine patrol had the decency to stop, put out the fire, and take the dog for emergency medical treatment. She called for other officers to come process the scene but NO ONE responded – not for a week. In that time all evidence had been compromised. The gas can was collected, but it had been sitting in the rain for a week. Dog feces was found in an abandoned house the brothers were known to frequent, but samples were not taken to compare to Phoenix, so no connection between the boys and the dog could be established. No one at the hospital where the dog was treated saved the towel she came in with for accelerant testing. No hair samples were collected. The collar on the dog was saved but it was not preserved in a non-reactive metal container that would keep the gasoline from degrading. Interviews with witnesses were futile, as Baltimore has a well-known “stop snitchin'” attitude and an extreme reluctance to cooperate with police. Phoenix was euthanized due to the severity of her injuries after a valiant fight, and the boys were remanded into adult court.
As many people now know, fire-setting and animal abuse have long been established as two major precursors to even more serious crimes and interpersonal violence. During trial, the lack of sufficient evidence was the downfall of the case. The defense witnesses cast doubt on everything – the video surveillance, the arson evidence… the jury ended up in a deadlock and the defendants were released. They were retried recently and found not guilty. It took only an hour to decide, after almost 20 hours of deliberation at the first trial. News reports said the second jury was visibly disinterested, often seen laughing or even sleeping. There were issues with evidence and testimony being barred. In short, it went horribly wrong. Interestingly, a bit of poetic justice: both boys have been arrested and thrown in jail on other charges since the first trial, including drug possession, burglary, and attempted murder. But, as Dr. Lockwood said, Phoenix did not die in vain: an anti-animal cruelty task force has been established in Baltimore. Billboards have gone up. Awareness has increased. Some good has come of it. But the sickness in the pit of my stomach even as I write this remains strong. This is why I continue to be interested in increasing the knowledge of proper forensic techniques for those involved in animal cruelty cases.
Finally, Diane Balkin spoke again, this time on search and seizure and proper execution of warrants. She told us of an interesting case in which a weapon was found in a trash can that was located right outside a suspect’s house. The trash can was not included in the warrant and so the weapon could not be seized as evidence because of the concept of curtilage, which describes the area immediately surrounding a house including associated structures where a homeowner has a reasonable expectation of privacy. It could have been seized if the warrant included the trash cans, or if the cans had been moved to the curb for pick up, as this would have made them “abandoned” property. Interesting. I love law and should have been an attorney.
Now, it is back home and back to reality. I am sad my time at the conference is over but glad for all of the new information. It is always a comfortable bubble of support at these conferences, but it bursts fairly harshly when I am home and on my own. But let’s see if I can make something happen here.
Thank you so much to IVFSA for all of your hard work and for inspiring me to continue the fight!
Here are some more photos of my time in South Beach – enjoy!
Posted in Animal Abuse/Neglect, Animal cruelty, Animals, Arson, Cats, Crime, Crimiinology, Criminal Law, CSI, DNA, Dogs, Forensics, Humane Law Enforcement, Investigations, Law Enforcement, Pets, Post A Week, Uncategorized, Veterinary Forensics
Tagged Animal abuse, animals, Arson, Cats, Criminal law, CSI, DNA, dogs, Forensics, Humane Law Enforcement, investigation, pets, Post A Week, shelter dogs, SPCA, Veterinary Forensics
Have my descriptions of the goings-on at this conference gotten you excited? I hope so!
The rest of day 2 was a whirlwind. There were presentations by students at the University of Florida, one on using craniometric measurements to determine sex in canines, and one on using cellular markers, or RNA, to determine the postmortem interval.
Dog skull (photo by skullsite.co.uk)
Nancy Bradley, a former police officer turned veterinarian, spoke on collecting ballistic evidence; her expertise came after the serial shooter case in Phoenix occurred several years ago. Her emphasis on handling the ballistic evidence from the animals in that case forced law enforcement to see the value of understanding what happened to the animals, because it was directly related to the human side of the investigation. Some of her pointers: collect gun shot residue (GSR) from the body, even if it may be difficult to test due to the distortion from the fur; use trajectory rods to show the path of the bullet after taking radiographs and put the rods through all of the organs affected; ask officers if they want the bullet cleaned or preserved for cytology; and handle any projectiles with your gloved hands or with plastic forceps rather than metal since the lead is surprisingly malleable and any lands and grooves (that would be used to prove/disprove a match could potentially be marred by improper collection methods.
After this was a presentation by Belinda Lewis, a photographer who teaches officers proper photographic techniques. I really learned a lot from her. Some of the tips she shared I already knew from school: when photographing, fill the frame, maximize the depth of field, etc., but she also taught us to use 18% gray scales rather than white when photographing evidence since it can wash out the photo, and to use gray towels under bodies during necropsies for the same reason. In specific cases, look for things that are often overlooked, for example, if a dog is found starved, show that the chain it was tethered with was too short to reach any food source. And photograph all necropsies!
Finally, Douglas Mader, a veterinarian and specialist in reptiles, gave a fun and extremely interesting presentation on reptile forensics, a subject I know NOTHING about. It was truly fascinating, because he made us question what really constitutes abuse. Many people put live mice in a cage with a snake thinking that the snake will eat the mouse, but often the snake is not hungry but the mouse is… the mouse can cause sometimes severe damage to the snake by gnawing on it and the snake will typically fail to react because it’s predator instincts are not being utilized when it’s not hungry. This most likely isn’t abuse but merely a mistake. However, what if someone puts a ferret in with a snake? Picture the damage a ferret could inflict on a snake. That shows intent. And did you know that the USDA does not cover reptiles or amphibians with regards to care? And there is no published data on required cage habitats. Pictures of a puppy mill can invoke feelings of sadness and disgust. We’ve realized how horrible they are. But what about the snake breeders who keep them housed in tiny plastic cages with barely enough room to move, no stimulation or proper ventilation? Why is this not considered as reprehensible as the puppy mill? Interesting discussions also on whether or not reptiles and amphibians feel pain or stress or boredom, and, really, how we would know? Dr. Mader was SO much fun and had us laughing hysterically while still pondering some serious issues.
Snakes in breeding boxes in an incubator (photo from reptilegeeks.com). Is this acceptable??
Sadly, that was the end of the second day of presentations. The evening concluded with a business meeting, and some of us got together for dinner and drinks. I found myself exhausted but exhilarated by all of the things I had seen and learned. These conferences really make me anxious to learn more. I know that I will be back in school in the not-so-distant future, possibly pursuing anthropology, or molecular biology. Not sure yet. But this conference has sure given me much to think about!
Stay tuned for the third and last day! And as always, you can find more information on the IVFSA website!
Parked outside our hotel!
Posted in Animal Abuse/Neglect, Animal cruelty, Animals, Anthropology, Ballistics, Cats, Crime, CSI, DNA, Dogs, Forensics, Gun shot residue, Humane Law Enforcement, Investigations, Pets, Photography, Post A Week, Reptiles, Veterinary Forensics
Tagged Animal abuse, animals, Ballistics, Cats, CSI, DNA, dogs, Forensics, Gun shot residue, Humane Law Enforcement, investigation, pets, Photography, Post A Week, Reptiles, shelter dogs, SPCA, Veterinary Forensics
I am blown away by all the information…
On the second day’s agenda:
Toby Wolson, a forensic scientist, spoke on bloodstain pattern analysis (BPS) and the changes this branch of forensics has experienced sine 2008. He told us that standards are being established so that every organization utilizing BPS has something to adhere to, and these are being developed through SWGSTAIN (scientific working group on BPS); in 2009 they published a source for BPA terminology. Every branch of forensics has its own SWG to develop standards to help keep the branches from being inadmissible to court. He also showed us how to take proper photos. I would have liked a bit more of the actual science and perhaps its applicability to vet forensics but the presentation was good nonetheless. Did you know that the Sam Sheppard case in 1966 was the first time that bloodspatter evidence was used in court??
Terrible photo of Toby Wolson’s presentation.
Amanda Fitch, a crime scene investigator at the University of Florida, presented on the proper methods for crime scene sketching. There’s more to it than you think! There are three main sketching techniques that can be used: a plan view, or what is essentially a floor plan, a profile view, which depicts a side view that can show the location of bullet holes or blood spatter on walls, and an exploded view, that is a floor plan view with the walls shown flat. There should always be a rough sketch done at the crime scene that can be finalized later, should a final version be needed for court. And evidence can be measured using either an X,Y coordinate method from fixed points, a triangulation method used mostly in outdoor scenes, or a baseline method, used outdoors where there are no landmarks. I will have to elaborate more on this later… this should be a branch of forensics all to itself.
Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, a veterinarian and president of IVFSA until this meeting, spoke about handling animals in methamphetamine raids. I had never even considered the possibility of this, but it’s a fairly common occurrence in certain areas. By far the most common injury to animals in these circumstances is walking through acids or fluids that have spilled, as there are many hazardous substances in these often clandestine labs. She also said to be cognizant of inhalation injuries, high ammonia levels, and aerosolized chemical spills. Institute a site safety officer and find out who needs to go into the contamination zone. All animals coming out need to be decontaminated, so take any needed evidence samples first, and be aware that blood and urine samples should be taken ASAP, although meth stays in an animal’s/person’s system longer than many drugs. Above all, consider the animal’s safety first. Many of them will be starved, neglected and abused and may need immediate care.
Once again, I have rambled on. But Day 2 isn’t over yet – there’s still lots to come! Can you tell I’m excited?? Stay tuned and don’t forget to check the IVFSA page… the location for the 2013 conference has been posted!!! Stay tuned…
South Beach morning clouds.
Posted in Animal Abuse/Neglect, Animal cruelty, Animals, Bloodspatter, Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, Cats, Crime, CSI, Forensics, Humane Law Enforcement, Investigations, Law Enforcement, Pets, Post A Week, Veterinary Forensics
Tagged Animal abuse, animals, blood spatter, bloodspatter, bloodstain, Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, Cats, CSI, dogs, Forensics, Humane Law Enforcement, investigation, pets, Post A Week, shelter dogs, SPCA, Veterinary Forensics