Monday, June 29, 2009

Animal cruelty investigators learn to use forensics to unearth clues

By Leonora LaPeter Anton

"...Melinda Merck is a veterinarian from Atlanta and the rock star of a budding animal-crime-solving movement.

Merck has helped solve some of the most notable animal crimes in history, including the Michael Vick dogfighting case. She's moving to Gainesville to teach and investigate crimes at the University of Florida. The new animal forensics program is the first in the nation.

Crimes against animals have gained attention the past few years. Police are charging more people with animal hoarding. Prosecutors are more likely to take cases of dogfighting and cockfighting to court. More and more law schools are offering animal law classes.

All but four states now have felony animal cruelty laws. At the heart of the push is research that shows people who hurt animals often go on to commit more serious crimes against humans. Serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo (the Boston Strangler) and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) all harmed animals before they went on to kill people.

No single agency keeps statistics on animal cruelty cases, so numbers are collected by animal abuse organizations anecdotally, from stories in the newspaper or on the Internet.

Florida seems to have more documented animal cruelty cases than most states. But this could be an indication that Florida's animal cruelty laws are strong and cases are more likely to be prosecuted, said Jennifer Hobgood, the Florida director for the Humane Society of the United States..." More

Photo: [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]

The remains of a bound dog was among evidence placed at the scene. Animal control officials and veterinary students came from distant places to learn how to solve crimes against animals.