Category Archives: Veterinary Forensics

Calling All Veterinarians and Vet Techs!

 

My apologies for the long hiatus; 2012 came in with a bang and has proven to be a very busy year so far! The months of January and February were hectic, preparing for the American Academy of Forensic Science’s  (AAFS) Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA, where I was priveledged to present research that I had been working on for some time (much more on the conference later!).

The AAFS conference was an amazing experience for this budding forensic scientist, and I truly encourage anyone out there considering a career in this field or already working in it to attend the next one. I met many talented and established professionals, and saw a great deal of inspiring research. But the highlight for me came in the middle of the week, when the “general” section of the Academy (see their website for a breakdown of their sections based on forensic specialty) to which I belong took a unanimous vote to recognize veterinary forensics as a discipline under their auspice!

What does this mean? It signifies the recognition of the importance of forensics in veterinary/animal practices, and opens the door to research. It allows for support of those working in animal professions and encourages collaboration among forensic professionals. In short, it’s HUGE, and I was honored to be there to see it happen!

So the AAFS in encouraging all members of the veterinary community to apply for membership! The organization is a fantastic opportunity to learn, grow, meet other professionals, and gain recognition and awards. I recommend it to everyone, especially those in the animal community. Let’s work together to strengthen this field of forensic science!

Follow the link below to read the AAFS letter to veterinary staff interested in membership:

http://www.aafs.org/forensic-veterinarians-are-encouraged-apply-membership

I thank the AAFS for supporting our work and vision!

 

Check Your State’s Humane Law Ranking

Photo courtesy of the UK Human Rights Blog

 

Today the Humane Society released a report detailing all 50 states’ animal laws in 2011, as they relate to “issues ranging from animal fighting to farm animals to wildlife to companion animals”. When you click the link below it will bring you to an interactive map. Hover over any state to see a brief synopsis and whether or not it increased or decreased in its rank in 2011.

I am very disappointed in my own state’s ranking, and would have thought it to be higher than it actually is. And something I already knew from working in the field that I do: it is one of the only states with no felony penalties for first-time cruelty violations. This fact is sad and discouraging, given the horrendous nature of some of the animal crimes I’ve seen. But laws can change.

Take a look and see how your state ranks:

http://www.humanesociety.org/about/state/humane_state_ranking_2011.html

The Sparkle of a New Year

 

She came into the clinic last Tuesday – a sad, emaciated, tiny black pit bull puppy, no older than six months. Her owner said that she had gotten her hind leg caught in a fence recently, and thought it might heal on its own. Clearly it had not. It was gangrenous and rotten, skin sloughing off and smelling like death. The humane officers were told about the dog, and decided to cite the owner for lack of vet care. Just another form of abuse. He had no choice but to surrender the dog to us.

Her name was Sparkle. I have no idea if that was the name she came in with or the name the girls gave her when she was signed over – the first time I saw her she was being prepped for surgery… the entire leg needed to be removed. When I opened her cage door, her skinny little tail beat out a steady beat on the metal walls and she shyly hobbled over to me, head down, eyes hopeful, despite the obvious pain she must have been in. I squeezed that little dog for all it was worth, rubbed her head, fluffed her blankets; I knew no one else wanted to go near her because of how bad that rotten limb smelled. But I didn’t care. And it was probably the only kindness she had ever known.

She looked so tiny and frail on the operating table. I thought about what an awful life she had most likely had, and the senselessness of it all. I wondered about the cruelty and dismissive actions of people who consider it a right and not a privilege to own a pet. I also thought about what a great life she could have when the pain was over and she learned to hop around on three legs. A dog so young and so resilient should have no trouble adapting, and would no doubt make some good, kind person very happy. And she almost made it.

The surgery was practically over. Only a few stitches remained. But her little heart just couldn’t take it. I swallowed the huge lump in my throat and coughed back tears as I forced breaths of pure oxygen into her lungs and the surgeon frantically tried CPR, pleading with her not to give up. But the heart monitor wailed its steady, horrible, monotone announcement. I looked at the surgeon and she at me, both not willing to accept it. Sparkle held on strong throughout the entire procedure. We still don’t know what happened.

When I turned off the lights in the surgery ward that night I glanced at Sparkle’s empty cage. And grabbed the little stuffed monkey toy that she had in there with her. I wanted to somehow keep her with me. So the monkey sits on my dashboard now as a reminder.

My only consolation? That Sparkle’s horrible owner will be prosecuted. I can only hope that the hugs and pets and love she briefly got from me gave her some happiness.

For 2012, I wish for no more sad endings. No more pain, torture, neglect, or suffering at the hands of humans. No more ignorance, no more cruelty, no more insensitivity. This New Year, I want to imagine a world where animals are respected, admired, protected, and cared for. In my mind all this is possible. Will you help me make 2012 a better year? For them? For all the Sparkles out there?

“The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.” – Mark Twain

Happy New Year to all of my readers. May all of your wishes for the new year come true.

Shine on from the Heavens, Sparkle.

Guest post: Understanding the Emotional Symptoms of Animal Abuse

This is a guest post by Allison Gamble!

People who suffer from physical and psychological abuse exhibit behavioral and emotional symptoms even long after the abuse has stopped, and the same is true for animals. Whether the abuse is emotional or physical, it will leave indelible marks on the animal’s psyche. However, by employing a sort of animal forensic psychology, you can learn to better understand these behaviors, including the types of abuse known to cause each, which is essential if you wish to successfully rehabilitate an animal that has suffered from abuse. Only by understanding the cause of the behavior and what actions you should avoid when handling the animal will you be able to mitigate the animal’s reactions and help it overcome the fear and aggression that maybe a characteristic part of its current behavior.

Territorial Aggression as a Reaction to Abuse

Territorial aggression is primarily thought of as a canine behavior; although it can affect any animal that feels that its territory is threatened. Generally, territorial aggression is a reaction to the animal’s territory being severely limited, often by chaining the animal.

According to the National Humane Education Society , animals that are chained typically suffer from neglect in several forms, including inadequate shelter, nutrition and hydration. As such, their basic survival needs are not met on a regular basis. Additionally, the animal, generally a dog, does not receive the love and attention that it craves as a social animal. As they become farther removed from the human companionship that would make them safe to be around, they tend to become aggressive. Torment at the hands of passing people and the aggression of other animals is also common, exasperating this condition. Their reaction is generally preordained. They behave aggressively, defending what little territory they have to call their own.

The Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association conducted a study that revealed chained dogs were 2.8 times more likely to bite than their non-chained counterparts. This due to the fact they are simply trying to protect their small territory from others, and they have not had the chance to form the necessary human bonds that would naturally eliminate this behavior.

It is important to note that not all animals that are chained are the victims of abuse. Some may be chained for short periods of time with fresh food and water or even be chained only when their owner is also working outside. These animals typically will not be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms of abuse, such as depression or timidity.

Aggression Towards the Owner

While it may not perhaps be en vogue to refer to the caretaker of an animal as an owner, most individuals who abuse their animals view themselves as just that. The animal is theirs to do with as they please. For some, this will include physical violence (beating or otherwise harming the animal when it disobeys), emotional abuse (withholding the affection the animal craves) and physical neglect (providing inadequate food, water, shelter, and protection from fleas and other parasites). The dog learns to fear the owner because the owner does not provide what it needs and because the owner often treats the animal in ways that cause it to cower or feel physical pain. Thus, as a the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) points out, animals that cower in fear or react with aggression when approached by their owner generally are victims of abuse.

Timidity

Oftentimes, animal abuse takes the form of neglect, and the animal becomes fearful of people because she or he has not been properly socialized. Generally, emotionally abused animals will behave in passive and timid ways, although it is not possible to say that all dogs that are submissive have been abused. For some, this is just their personality. For others, it is a deliberate choice.  A paper by Dr. Kertsi Seksel  details some of the patterns in submissive and timid behavior abused animals will exhibit, including learned helplessness (failing to help itself due to fear of the outcome), behavioral extremes and involuntary urination due to stress.

Depression

Just like people, animals can become depressed as well. However, unlike people, depression in animals generally does not last for long periods of time. As discussed by  WebMD , often it is related to changes in the animal’s environment or the loss of a primary caregiver. However, in some cases, depression may be a sign of abuse.

Generally, depression in animals is characterized by changes in behavior; listlessness; and a lack of enthusiasm for events, such as walks and meals, which typically made their days exciting. It would be a mistake to view an animal that appears depressed as abused, as many factors may contribute to depression in animals. However, a depressed animal should be carefully monitored, especially if the behavior does not change, as this might be a sign of depression.

A Word of Caution

No single behavioral sign is symptomatic of abuse. Just as people act out for a variety of reasons, so do animals. An aggressive dog may fear people due to a learned response in its past, but the current owner is not the abuser, nor does it mean the dog is kept chained all of the time. Timid animals learn to be submissive for a number of reasons, and oftentimes it can be a sign that the animal feels safe and protected with its current caretaker. They would act out if they did not feel this way. Depression can easily be seen as a sign of abuse, but often it speaks to a personal heartache the animal has recently faced.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that understanding an animal’s past circumstances can be the key to having a successful relationship with it in the present. An animal that was kept chained for much of its life prior to rescue should not be put back on a chain. Instead, you should work carefully to teach the animal that he does not need to guard his territory. If an animal was repeatedly struck with a folded newspaper, learn from his cues and avoid carrying a folded newspaper around him or her. With careful work and the guidance of professionals, including animal behaviorists and veterinarians, it is possible to mitigate the emotional symptoms of animal abuse.

Getting Back Out There – The Post A Week Challenge

I know I haven’t posted in quite some time and for that I apologize. Back at the beginning of April I was on a roll, posting almost every day. I really enjoyed it. Then a comment was made that really bothered me, about the fact that it was obvious that I didn’t have much going on in my life since I was able to write so much. For those of you who missed it, I was laid off in January. You can read about it here. I thought I was handling it all with grace, if I do say so myself, until about two months ago, and then the reality of it all hit me like a ton of bricks. When you’ve built your life around being a professional and having a career, however frustrating that career may be, and then it gets yanked away from you, suddenly it feels as if the bottom fell out. And when that comment was made I didn’t realize that it would bother me so much, but it was like pouring salt into an open wound.

So I stopped writing. Not just because of what was said, but because I let it get under my skin. It made me think too much, and the negative thoughts just kept piling on top of each other in my mind. But truth be told, I DID have a lot going on. I was completing my master’s degree. I was continuing my job search (which finally paid off – I start a new job, IN THE FORENSICS FIELD, in less than two weeks!!!), and I was taking on odd jobs in the meantime. But in my day to day sadness none of that mattered. I felt like a failure. Maybe some of you out there know what I’m talking about or are going through it yourselves right now. It sucks, doesn’t it? Even with the massive amount of people dealing with this issue, it’s a VERY lonely place to be.

Things are slowly turning around. I graduate soon. I will be starting a new job. I have other exciting things coming up. I’m beginning to pull myself up by the bootstraps, but it ain’t easy. Like one of my good friends told me, it’s hard to get out of a funk. I have good and bad days. But I can’t let it keep me from the things I care about, like writing about the issues that matter to me. So I’ve decided I want to get back to it! Rather than just thinking about doing it, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog once a week for the rest of 2011. More if I can manage. It’s a challenge, but I’m up for it. The topics that I write about need exposure. The more awareness I can spread, the more excitement I can generate, the more of a difference we can all make. I hope you will continue to follow along with me, and feel free to write or make comments. I see great things coming in the future – not just for me but for forensics and the amazing things this science can achieve.

Stay tuned – it will be a fun ride. I will also be publishing guest posts by others in the near future; a fantastic aspect of this that I didn’t anticipate! And for anyone else in the same boat that I am, stay focused, stay strong, believe in yourself, and try to ignore the negative (especially when it comes from yourself).