Tag Archives: animals

Veterinary Forensics Conference, Day 2 Continued

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!

Veterinary Forensics Conference, Day 2

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.

Veterinary Forensics Conference, Day 1 Continued

Since the first Day 1 update was so incredibly long, I will try to do a better job of summing things up, but there is just so much good information to share!

The final speaker of day 1 was Dr. Mike Warren, an anthropologist and C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory director. His talk was very interesting as it brought to light the lack of existing information with regard to the evaluation of animal skeletal remains in a forensic concept. He stressed the need to develop veterinary forensic osteology methodology, and perhaps a database. Although the basic properties of bone are the same between species, there is a lot that is unknown: do hanged pit bulls (often seen with regard to dog fighting) suffer any variation of a hangman’s fracture (a fracture of the pedicles of the C2 vertebra) in humans? How does a quadruped’s vertebral column respond? With regard to fractures from blunt force trauma to the cranial vault, do bones fracture the same way all the time (in humans, cranial bone responds in typical patterns to blunt force trauma)? In animals, are there named fractures with known mechanisms, like Colles fractures in humans? This is an area ripe for research – I could hardly sit still, I was so excited by this!

A poster presentation followed the speakers (I was privileged to be able to present and made a lot of great contacts) and then it was time for the soiree! Great appetizers and prepared food was served:

Our happy chefs…

and of course dessert:

Fondue!

and the 2012 conference’s signature drink, the Algor Mortis:

A rum concoction that tasted much better than it’s name would imply.

After gorging ourselves there was a “Bring Your Own Slides” event, where attendees could present cases they worked.

All in all, it was a great way to start the conference! More to come…

If you’d like to be part of next year’s conference, keep checking the IVFSA website!

Veterinary Forensics Conference, Day 1

FANTASTIC!! So many great presentations…

Dr. Bruce Goldberger, professor and director of the toxicology program at University of Florida spoke on consulting the media about high-profile cases. He has consulted on some of the most well-publicized cases of the last few years, including the deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith, and Heath Ledger. It was fun to hear him describe some of his embarrassing on-camera blunders, and it was interesting to learn his tips for knowing when to say what to whom. His best advice: take advantage of a common question that is often asked at the end of press interviews, which is, “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” He told us to use that to our advantage to promote programs our organizations may have, or to correct something we may have said previously that we wanted to clear up. He also said we should NOT speak on matters that we are unfamiliar with or on cases in which we we are personally involved in the litigation. Very informative.

Diane Balkin, an attorney in Colorado who is an expert in handling animal cases discussed issues that often arise in hoarding or puppy mill cases. She stressed the need for proper documentation at all times – you can never take too many pictures! Full body photos of EVERY SINGLE ANIMAL should be taken with placards indicating the animal’s assigned number. Take photos of the overall scene, and sketch the layout so that you can identify which animal came from which cage. Save the cages! Save the food bowls! Everything is evidence! Take pictures of the live animals at the time of confiscation and then later, after treatment. Investigators who were at the scene should meet with the prosecutor to plan the case. Know your state’s laws – does the state where this occurred have cruelty statutes that apply to ANY animal or is livestock excluded? Each animal should have its own charges accompanied by proper documentation – do not lump the cruelty charges for four or five animals together as that leaves more of a chance for a successful appeal; in her words, “Each animal (in the case) should be specifically identified, so if treatment (act or omission) of an individual animal results in a provable violation then a charge should be filed for that animal”. And never forget that although mental illness often accompanies these types of crimes, it does not prohibit the person from being held accountable. You do not have to prove motive, only accountability. Above all, she said, NEVER GIVE UP! You can always make something from what seems like nothing. And did you know that there is almost a 100% recidivism rate for the defendants in hoarding cases??

Dr. Robert Reisman, a veterinarian with the ASPCA, spoke about blunt force trauma and showed some of his interesting cases. He has studied literature that corroborated some of his own findings: rib fractures are not commonly seen in animals involved in motor vehicle accidents – something I would never have guessed – most of the fractures occur in the appendicular skeleton. For other types of cases, do not assume that just because there is no sign of trauma on the external surface of the animal, even after shaving, that there is no internal damage. Always shave the animal. Always take radiographs, even in cases of suspected neglect or starvation as abuse frequently accompanies these, and note any callused bone that would indicate past trauma (bone fracture) that had healed – this could demonstrate chronic abuse. Reflect the skin to check for hemorrhage. Check for a severed frenulum (the strip of skin connecting the upper lip to the gum), an indicator of abuse often seen in child abuse cases. Check for broken teeth or mouth bleeding. The number of external lesions can determine the minimum number of blunt force impacts. If there are injuries to multiple areas of the body or to recessed parts of the body that would not typically sustain damage in the case of accidental injury, suspect abuse; for example, if an animal has hemorrhages in its groin area, this would not typically be seen in an accidental fall. Also, consider the explanation provided by the animal’s owner and assess whether it fits with the findings; for example, take into consideration the force involved in blunt force trauma… would the mass or weight of a tiny terrier merit massive trauma that results in death from a fall down the stairs?  Unlikely. Also, consider finding an engineer or physicist that could determine how much force was required to cause the animal’s injury.

Dr. Jason Byrd, a very reputable forensic entomologist and founding member of IVFSA, spoke on the latest happenings within this professional group, and the state of affairs of the online certificate program in veterinary forensics offered through the University of Florida, in conjunction with the ASPCA and the Maples Center. To sum it up, things are progressing well! Oh, and “like” them on Facebook. http://maples-center.ufl.edu, http://forensics.med.ufl.edu.

Good advice on the pathology front came from Dr. Beverly McEwen: case investigators should share case background with the pathologist, including crime scene information, when the animal was last seen alive, the time of day, location/position of the body, whether rigor was present, evidence of insect predation or scavenging on the premises and any possible exposure to hazards or toxins; this knowledge can greatly benefit their assessment of the animal. Also, make sure that the pathology or diagnostic lab to whom you are sending your samples has an SOP in place for handling legal cases, or ask the pathologist to document everything with photos, measurements, etc. Once again, it was stressed that a lack of external or cutaneous injury does not rule out internal trauma; shave and skin deceased victims. Take radiographs

I could go on (and on and on) but this has already become a ridiculously long post. I will try to shorten my summaries from now on, as I haven’t even finished with day one’s speakers!

If you find any of this interesting, please check out IVFSA.org and come to any of their great training programs, and of course to next year’s conference!

Kiteboarder on the beach in Miami!

Trying Everything

Photo by animalcsi

In my last post I wrote about the most recent devastating poaching event in Cameroon, in which hundreds of elephants were gunned down by poachers for their ivory. Efforts to stop the slaughter in countries all across Africa are underway but the problems are numerous and include rangers being out-manned and out-gunned by armies of poachers who arrive on horseback with advanced weaponry and an almost complete lack of government funding for anti-poaching efforts. But I have to celebrate even the small efforts, and the short video below from the New Zealand Herald demonstrates one of the ways Kenya is battling back by attaching radio collars to elephants. This will enable the wildlife officials to track them and know better how to direct the on-the-ground teams deployed to fight the poachers.

Click here for the video: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/video/news/video.cfm?c_id=1501138&gal_cid=1501138&gallery_id=125030

I also came across an interesting article describing a unique method to deter elephants from crop-raiding by using chili pepper mixed with engine oil to coat fences. Not only do elephants face an uncertain future due to poaching, but they are also often the subject of farmers’ anger when they steal crops; the conflicts often end in the death of either the farmer or the elephant. This chili pepper method has gained in popularity as a deterrent, along with using bees. But as elephants are extremely adaptable and will eventually adjust to the techniques or find ways around them, new ideas are constantly needed. Read the article on the chili pepper fences below:

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052702303815404577333780433251036-lMyQjAxMTAyMDEwNjExNDYyWj.html?mod=wsj_share_email

As an aside, this week I am attending the veterinary forensics conference put on by the International Veterinary Forensic Science Association (IVFSA). It is my third IVFSA event and I have enjoyed all of them and I will be posting updates as to the goings-on down here in beautiful Miami!

Here’s the view from my hotel room:

Massacre

I’ve been reluctant to post on this topic – I’m not at all sure why – other than perhaps I knew that writing about it would make it somehow “real” to me and I just can’t stomach this.

But the truth is, it IS real. Since January, differing accounts have reported that anywhere from 200-400 elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in Bouba Njdija National Park in Cameroon: http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0314-russo_elephants_cameroon.html. According to a New York Daily News article, “Northern Cameroon’s elephant population represents 80 percent of the total population of savanna elephants in all of Central Africa” and now it is estimated that HALF of the elephants in the area have been killedhttp://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-03-15/news/31198608_1_ivory-sales-tons-of-illegal-ivory-tusks.

This is ONE park in ONE country. The numbers don’t include the increase in poaching seen in other areas across Africa.

An amazingly virulent demand for ivory in China is to blame for the slaughter. Most of the ivory is smuggled into China and Thailand via increasingly sophisticated methods, including using unsuspected routes and even placing secret compartments on the undersides of ships. Poachers arrive on horseback from Sudan and Chad, having already wiped out the elephant populations in Chad. An increasing number of Chinese middlemen moving to Africa are aiding the crisis. Another article describes an additional reason: “In 2008, the ban on ivory sales was lifted to allow for the trade of 108 tons of ivory stocks from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to China and Japan. The sell-off did dispense with old stocks but it also boosted demand – and worryingly provided an ideal cover for illicit ivory sales” (http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/16192133).

Photo courtesy of AFP

So what is being done to fight the killing? Cameroon dispatched troops to combat and track the poachers. And Interpol is carrying out an anti-poaching effort called Operation Worthy, “aimed at stifling the increasing demand in illegal elephant ivory”, and it has seen some success: “several dozen people have been arrested and the agents have recovered what they describe as “significant” amounts of illegal wildlife products – including more than 250kg of raw ivory but also lion and leopard pelts, python and crocodile skins and live birds; the operation has been co-ordinated by Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme and funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare”, (http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/16192133). In the Congo, bloodhounds are being used to track poachers with mixed success rates, but at least it shows a willingness to try new techniques. Read about it here: http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/05/10582934-bloodhounds-used-to-sniff-out-people-killing-elephants-for-ivory.

But the sad fact is that the troops sent to protect elephants and other wildlife (including rhinos that are killed for their horns) often find themselves unprepared for poachers who have extensive networks and high-powered weapons, and often end up losing their own lives. The Cameroon troops are losing the battle.

And now a wildfire is burning out of control on Kenya’s highest mountain, Mt. Kenya: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/elephants-wildlife-flee-as-fire-spreads-across-wooded-slopes-of-mount-kenya/2012/03/19/gIQArKojMS_story.html and wildlife (elephants included) are fleeing the flames. It is believed that this was intentionally started by poachers as a distraction.

A very informative article on China’s ivory demand can be found on NPR’s site: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/02/147756651/looking-for-elephant-ivory-try-china. It is my belief that elephant slaughter will not stop or even slow down until the demand diminishes.

It is indescribably sad that this is the reality, and that it is very likely that we may see the end of elephants on this planet. Sooner rather than later.

Not Older, Just Better…

No matter how you tell yourself

It’s what we all go through

Those eyes are pretty hard to take

When they’re staring back at you…

 – Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time

Click the play button below to sing along! :

I’m digressing from the normal themes here for today.

It’s been a crazy, unpredictable thirty-something years. Like a roller-coaster careening out of control. My past two birthdays have been extremely hard, with a lot of pensive, morose thoughts, regrets about things in the past and fear of a dwindling future. I don’t know if that’s part of a so-called mid-life crisis or just the cranky, Maxine-like old lady version of me that sits on my shoulder and shouts rude things in my ear (for more curmudgeonly thoughts, see my post: Bodies of Work, Plastic Flowers, and the Bitch on Your Shoulder).

Personal revelation alert: my biggest fear is running out of time. Time to accomplish career goals, time to try new foods, time to learn, time to pursue passions and hobbies, time for the bucket list, time to get my pilot’s license, time to read ALL of Hemingway’s books, time to spoil my dog, time to see the world and get back to Africa, time to appreciate family and friends, time to be the voice for those that cannot speak…

With each birthday I feel my biggest fear materializing. Time is my nemesis, always hiding in a bush just outside my door, laughing quietly, waiting to pounce when I least expect it, no matter how organized and focused I may think I am (as in this post from last year: When Life Kicks You in the Ass).

When did the choices get so hard?

With so much more at stake

Life gets mighty precious

When there’s less of it to waste

– Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time

But this year’s birthday came and went without incident. You know what? I had fun. I actually didn’t mind it, beyond the normal fretting about age and mild panic about my wasted twenties and rushing to make up for them. Maybe it’s the beginning of an acceptance of who I am and where I’ve been. Or a teensy bit of maturity. Or… a new optimism?? (Gasps, clutches chest in horror)

Whew. Happy thought passed. Thank god that’s over. Back to normal.

In any case, I kept the wolves of time that crouch in my head at bay this year. But I know they’re still there. They’ll always keep me uncomfortably aware. But that may be a good thing, in a way (there’s that disgusting optimism-thing again).

For now, I will enjoy the rest of the roller-coaster, hands in the air, screaming all the way  🙂

Happy birthday to me.

thoughtsfrommaxine.blogspot.com

 

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.