UF veterinary forensics course
offers unique learning opportunity

UF veterinary student Claire Caruana, left, "testifies" in a mock trial in the veterinary forensics course offered at UF. Dr. Cate McManus, a shelter medicine resident, is behind the podium acting as judge.

 By Sarah Carey

In a courtroom, a veterinarian takes the stand in front of a defense attorney, a prosecutor, a judge and a jury. Her credentials as an expert witness are accepted during a process known as voir dire. Next, she testifies about her findings in a necropsy she performed on a puppy involved in a cruelty investigation involving a teenager accused of savagely torturing a puppy before beating it to death.

Although this case was a real one that resulted in a conviction of animal cruelty, the participants in this scenario were University of Florida veterinary students, role-playing in a new and innovative elective course being offered at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.

Now in its second year, the course is led by well known forensic medicine expert Dr. Melinda Merck, a veterinary forensics consultant and an adjunct instructor at UF. Merck’s textbook, Veterinary Forensics: Animal Cruelty Investigations, is considered to be a leading authority on the subject. The course also features lectures by crime scene analysts, cruelty investigators and other veterinarians.

“This course is one of only three in the country to provide training for future veterinarians in animal crime scene investigations, evidence handling, forensic necropsy and courtroom testimony,” said Dr. Julie Levy, Maddie’s Professor of Shelter Medicine at UF and course coordinator. Levy added that the course was one of several new electives developed for the Certificate in Shelter Medicine Program. The college’s newest certificate program was approved by CVM faculty in 2010 and recognizes intensive study in the area of shelter medicine.

Last year, 29 veterinary and three graduate students were enrolled in the course.

Jenny Dill, a senior student who took the course, called it “a unique educational opportunity” and said she was delighted to have had the privilege to experience it before graduation.

“This class teaches useful skills for investigating animal cruelty and is great for students interested in private practice, shelter medicine and even multiple specialties,” Dill said. “I have and will continue to recommend this class to future students.”

Junior veterinary student Marianne Janosco said the course had helped further her strong interest in the field of shelter medicine.

“I hope to one day contract with a shelter and maybe eventually work full time for one,” she said. “We are extremely fortunate at UF to have such a strong shelter medicine program with amazing clinicians that work really hard to introduce us to all aspects of shelter medicine,” Janosco said. “I did multiple externships last summer at various shelters and found myself teaching some of the shelter veterinarians that had worked in shelters for years, things I had learned in my veterinary forensics class.”

This year’s class is even larger than last year’s, with almost half of the junior class taking it as an elective.

“We are doing something great here at UF,” Merck said. “We’re creating a future where veterinarians have training in forensics. The students are exposed to all aspects of their role with animal cruelty investigations, including expert report writing and testimony. This forensics course, combined with the Shelter Medicine Program, represents a very unique learning opportunity for our students.”

This year’s speakers include Dr. Lisa Centonze, a UF CVM alumna and shelter veterinarian at Hillsborough County Animal Services, who will speak about dog fighting; Amanda Kinsey, a former crime scene investigator for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office; who will address evidence collection; Dr. Jason Byrd, associate director of the William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at UF, who will discuss forensic entomology; and Dr. Rob Reisman of the ASPCA, who will speak on blunt force trauma and neglect.

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April 2011

Veterinary forensics course, one of few in country, kicks off second year

New veterinary forensics course offers students a unique learning opportunity.

FARMS intern wins scholarship to conference

A resident veterinarian with the Food Animal Reproduction and Medicine service recently won a scholarship to attend the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas.

Wamsley is College’s Teacher of the Year

Dr. Heather Wamsley, a clinical pathologist, has been named the collegewide Teacher of the Year for the UF CVM.

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