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CSI: Animal Forensics

By: Rebecca O'Connor

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People love mysteries, putting all the pieces together and solving a quandary or a crime. That's probably why CSI is a very popular television show. It reminds us that science is cool and problems can be solved. It's also important and saves the lives of people and animals.

Everyone is familiar with the basics of the forensics put to work at human crime investigations, but did you know that there is a growing science of animal forensics as well? If you find forensics fascinating and love animals, you definitely want to read on.

Clues that Animals Leave Behind

There are several labs that specialize in animal forensics in the United States. The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California's School of Veterinary Medicine in Davis is one of the leading animal forensics labs in the country. As law enforcement agencies began to request more information regarding animal "clues" a forensic branch was created.

Most of the work done at the Davis involves looking at biological animal evidence in order to tie an animal into the scene of a crime. For example, the evidence would point to the owner of the animal being the criminal. Cats leave behind a lot of hair and if they find your cat's hair at the scene of the crime, it just might implicate you as the perpetrator.

People have even been convicted of crimes based on the evidence left behind by an animal. Phillip Stroud was placed at the scene of a murder based on dog feces that were found outside of the house and also on his sneakers in 2000. Stroud had claimed to have not entered the building, but the DNA doesn't lie.

Protecting Animals

Another facet of animal forensics is the examination of animals to determine if they have been abused and how. This is sort of the Special Victims Unit of forensics. The ASPCA actually has a Veterinary Forensics Unit whose job is to examine evidence and offer expert testimony on animal abuse.

Investigators look at x-rays, bone fragments, bullet trajectories as other bits of evidence to try and build a case again animal cruelty offenders. Animals can't tell us what happened, so investigators are starting to depend on forensics to talk for them. The ASPCA has even funded a special CSI van to go directly to the scene of the crime, such as a dog fighting ring where evidence can be collected swiftly.

A Career in Animal CSI

If you love science and helping animals, but want to pursue a specialty after going to veterinary school and earning a D.V.M., animal forensics might be a great career for you! You would be required to take extra classes in criminology as well. Choosing a program that offers degrees in pathology will also help you on your way. Individuals wishing to pursue a career in this field should be confident that they can handle the difficulty of being at gruesome or heartbreaking crime scenes. It isn't a profession for the faint of heart.

The demand for experts in this field is rapidly growing. In a nation with so many pets, there are almost always one or two at the scene of the crime. You'll be helping people, not to mention getting the satisfaction of helping to put away animal abusers.

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