The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, along with the University of Florida’s Center for Forensic Medicine, held a workshop Wednesday to locate graves of animals who had been subject to potential abuse.
The three-day conference addresses the processing of animal crime scenes and the proper techniques for excavating such grave sites.
Forensic veterinarians searched two acres of Austin Carey Memorial Forest, 10625 NE Waldo Road, looking for various clues such as differences in soil and plant life, as well as a large amount of insects.
In extreme cases of animal abuse, forensic evidence can be buried with the bodies, and it takes special training to track down and prove the crimes after the fact. According to experts, a grave can be used multiple times by offenders to get rid of animal remains.
With a constant influx of cases and lack of veterinarians with forensic skills, the ASPCA hopes training vets will lead to increased prosecution of cases.
“It’s common (here) just like it’s common across all localities,” said Rachel Touroo, ASPCA/UF’s director of Veterinary Forensics. “It was surprising to me when I got into the field of veterinary forensics of how really pervasive it is in society.”
Jason Byrd, director of education at ASPCA/UF’s Veterinary Forensic Sciences program, discussed the value in the training his program provides.
“There really isn’t a forensic science professional who can replace the veterinarian and the skills that the veterinarian brings,” Byrd said. “So all of the things that a medical examiner would do in a human investigation is left to the veterinarian.”
The widespread nature of the problem has helped ASPCA secure and distribute $1.6 million in grant funding since 2009.
“When law enforcement doesn’t have the resources that the ASPCA can bring forth, and the knowledge base of a forensic vet,” Touroo said, “they’re less likely to actually purse charges against those individuals and that’s unfortunate.”
The special training workshops will continue through Friday at the Memorial Forest.