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Animal CSI: Using Forensics to Make and Win Animal Cruelty Cases


The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) hosted a one-day animal welfare workshop entitled Animal CSI: Using Veterinary Forensics to Make and Win Animal Cruelty Cases on 24 April 2009 at O’Reilly Hall, University College Dublin presented by Melinda Merck, DVM, Sr. Director of Veterinary Forensic Sciences for the ASPCA and Randall Lockwood, PhD, Senior Vice President, Anti-Cruelty Initiatives, ASPCA.  Attendees included professionals from the Irish Gardai, Veterinarians & Irish Animal Animal Welfare societies.

This in-depth workshop focused on the special role that carefully collected veterinary evidence can play in animal abuse and neglect cases, including large-scale scenarios such as dog fighting, puppy mills, and animal hoarding. The workshop explored techniques for planning how to process an animal crime scene, collecting and handling evidence, using diagnostic laboratories and outside experts, and working with prosecutors to package the results of an investigation to best tell the story of what happened to an animal.

In recent years it has become widely accepted that the abuse and neglect of animals can be an indicator of many other forms of family violence and ongoing abuse and neglect, including child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence and mistreatment of the disabled. Cruelty to animals can also be a significant indicator that a child or young adult is at high risk of becoming a perpetrator of violence in society, perpetuating the cruelties that he or she has experienced. The link between animal abuse and other forms of abuse and violence was explored as part of the workshop.

Professionals in veterinary medicine, law enforcement and animal welfare  are increasingly asked to respond to situations of serious and violent cases of animal cruelty. Effective response to animal abuse and neglect requires more than recognition of the physical signs of non-accidental injury and neglect. It also requires an understanding of some of the motivations underlying these acts. This can be challenging for responders who need to be able to temporarily ‘think like an abuser’ to understand the actions that may have produced the situation that is presented to them.

Merck and Lockwood presented a detailed workshop on the various roles at Crime Scene Investigation: collection of evidence, examination of evidence, assessment of evidence and crimes, and providing practical information on how to complete these tasks in a manner that would withstand legal cross-examination. 

MerckMelinda D. Merck, D.V.M., is Senior Director of Veterinary Forensic Sciences for the ASPCA. 

Dr. Merck assists investigators of animal cruelty with crime scene investigation as well as the examination of live and deceased victims.  She frequently testifies as a forensic veterinary expert for animal cruelty cases around the country, including cases involving animal hoarding, dog fighting and animal torture. She most recently was the veterinary forensics expert on the football player, Michael Vick, dog fighting case.

Dr. Merck is the author of the textbook, “Veterinary Forensics: Animal Cruelty Investigation,” by Blackwell Publishing and the co-author of the book “Veterinary Forensic Investigation of Animal Cruelty: A Guide for Veterinarians and Law EnforcementShe frequently provides training for veterinary and law enforcement professionals nationwide on the use of veterinary medical knowledge in the investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty cases. .”

Dr. Merck lives in Atlanta, Ga., with an assortment of dogs and cats, many rescued from cruelty cases.

LockwoodRandall Lockwood PHD, is Senior Vice President for Anti-Cruelty Field Services for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He has a doctorate in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and was Assistant Professor in the psychology departments of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Washington University. He served as a Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States from 1984 to 2005. for more than 30 years, Dr. Lockwood has worked with humane societies and law-enforcement agencies, serving as an expert on the interactions between people and animals. He has testified in numerous trials involving cruelty to animals or the treatment of animals in the context of other crimes, including dog fighting, child abuse, domestic violence and homicide. His efforts to increase public and professional awareness of the connection between animal abuse and other forms of violence were profiled in an award-winning 1999 British Broadcast Corporation/Arts & Entertainment Network documentary entitled “The Cruelty Connection.”  

He is a Fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and a Certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist. He  frequently provides training for law-enforcement, social service, mental health and veterinary  professionals.  His book Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence, co-edited with Dr. Frank Ascione, was published in 1998. His book,  “Forensic Investigation of Animal Cruelty: A Guide for Veterinary and Law Enforcement Professionals (2006), coauthored with Leslie Sinclair, DVM  and Melinda Merck, DVM”  was the first text in this emerging field. He also authored “Prosecuting Animal Cruelty” for the National District Attorneys Association (2006).

Articles & Downloads

An Introduction to Veterinary Forensics in the Investigation of Animal Cruelty Article

Irish Animal and Intimate Partner Abuse Article

Cruelty to Animals - Changing Psychological,Social and Legislative Perspectives Article

Please note some of these presentations contain pictures of animal cruelty that may be upsetting.

Some of the articles are courtesy of the ASPCA


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