Veterinary Forensic Pathology Cases – Who Can You Call?

By Doris M. Miller, DVM, PhD

The importance of the veterinarian’s role in animal cruelty cases has recently been highlighted in the news media and numerous journals. In December, the AVMA endorsed a document called “Practical Guidance for the Effective Response by Veterinarians to Suspected Animal Cruelty, Abuse and Neglect” which is intended to aid veterinarians in establishing individual, practice-specific policies and procedures that best serve the needs of the animal, the client, the veterinarian and the community. This manual will shortly be available from the AVMA to all veterinarians on their website or by calling them at 1-800-248-2862. The association of animal cruelty and human-directed violence has been documented since the 1700’s. In Georgia, veterinarians who testify in these cases are immune from civil and criminal prosecution per Georgia Code Section 4-11-17. To assist with preparing and producing veterinarians who are capable and confident in their abilities to recognize, report and investigate cases of animal cruelty, the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine is now providing basic forensic training to veterinary students.
A review of the necropsy cases submitted to the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory from 2005 through 2010 revealed a doubling of the forensic/cruelty cases from 16 to 31 per year. The majority of these cases presented with a history of starvation, abandonment, suspicious death, gunshot, or trauma. Increased public awareness of reporting suspected animal cruelty, increased willingness to prosecute and increased training of animal control officers have been suggested as reasons for the increased submissions in addition to the economic downturn and increased home foreclosures.
Questions about potential cases can be directed to Dr. Doris Miller at 706-542-5568 or 706-255-1196. She can help you with information on evidence collection and preservation, photographic documentation and working with local authorities, other organizations, etc. Additional information is available at:, and (the International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association). Two recent books written for veterinary practitioners are: “Veterinary Forensics: Animal Cruelty Investigations,” by Dr. Melinda Merck, Blackwell Publishing, 2007; and “Forensic Investigation of Animal Cruelty – a Guide for Veterinary and Law Enforcement Professionals,” by Sinclair, Merck, and Lockwood, Humane Society Press, 2006.When submitting potential animal abuse, cruelty, or legal cases to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory please call ahead to alert the laboratory pathologist on duty and speak to him/her if possible. Submission forms should be completely filled out, including any additional background information. Information such as suspected trauma, gunshots, exposure to poisons, treatment by referring veterinarians and any reports or documentation from animal control are valuable to the pathologist. If bullet fragments are to be retrieved and returned to the law enforcement agency, radiographs will be taken at an additional charge.

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