The Forensic Veterinary Examination

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of my job as a shelter veterinarian at a large municipal shelter is that I get to be involved in veterinary forensics.

For those of you who have seen shows such as Animal Cops or CSI, you may have an idea of what this  entails. Essentially, I work with animal service officers to investigate and prosecute cases such as animal abuse and neglect by performing a forensic veterinary examination on the animals that are the focus of the investigation to determine whether my examination supports or fails to support the case.

Some of the interesting cases I’ve seen so far include:

  • Dogs allegedly killed by other dogs
  • Dogs that were allegedly abused.
  • Dogs that were allegedly neglected, such as owners allegedly failed to provide the dogs with medical care after a substantial injury or attack.
  • Dogs that were allegedly sodomized.
  • Dogs that died from unknown causes and were found on a crime scene that was part of a police investigation.
  • Cats that were allegedly killed

As you can imagine, the majority of the animals I examine are deceased. However, a number of them are still alive. Each case is new and interesting and allows me to stretch myself to connect the dogs to get an overall picture of what the animal experienced.

Time and time again I am impressed by how an animal with no obvious, or minimal, injuries visible on the surface can sustain such deadly injuries under the skin from an attack. I have seen a dog sustain a bite wound that punctured the heart and left virtually no trace on the skin except for a small puncture wound. The bruising sustained underneath was severe and the blood loss that the animal endured as a result of the bite that punctured its heart was substantial and ultimately fatal.

These cases are not the most glamorous aspect of my job, but they are very interesting and important. The impact of the forensic veterinary exam can be profound – as criminal charges may or may not be pressed – depending upon what is found. This is why I am pursuing advanced training in veterinary forensics.

While I anticipate that this will mean I will spend some days in my career testifying in court, it is a job that I do not take lightly. As a veterinarian, I took an oath to protect animal health and welfare, and with that comes a responsibility to speak up for the animals that cannot speak up for themselves.