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Tag: forensic

And nothing but the truth, so help me dog

courthousedogsDogs aren’t just permitted in Washington state’s King County Courthouse, they work there — serving to calm the nerves of  intimidated witnesses and make their testimony flow more freely.

In addition to serving as companions for traumatized victims of child abuse who are testifying in court, the dogs are used for a variety of other courthouse purposes, according to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News.

According to the Courthouse Dogs website, dogs have been helping seek justice in Seattle since 2003.

The dogs provide comfort to sexually abused children while they undergo forensic interviews and testify in court, assist drug court participants in their recovery, visit juveniles in detention facilities, greet jurors and in general lift the spirits of courthouse staff.

Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, a prosecutor in Seattle, launched Courthouse Dogs in 2003 after using a service dog – Jeeter – for her son who has cerebral palsy.

She was in Dallas this week to make a presentation on the progam to the 21st annual Crimes Against Children Conference, sponsored by the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center and the Dallas Police Department.

“Sometimes, these children will say things to the dog that they’re too embarrassed to say to a person,” Stephens said. “We had a girl who had been severely abused and she could never talk about it. But she petted Jeeter for over 90 minutes straight and she was able to tell what happened.”

Stephens said the courthouse dogs are usually golden or Labrador retrievers who go through an intensive training regimen. Only about 30 percent of the dogs that start out actually make it, she said.

She said she believes that the highly skilled canines can often be the difference in a conviction or not guilty verdict in child abuse cases.

“These children are suffering acute emotional trauma,” she said. “These dogs can help them get through that.”

(Photo courtesy of www.courthousedogs.org)

The largest crackdown on dogfighting — ever

The most ambitious crackdown on dogfighting in American history has now led to the seizure of more than 450 dogs, with raids and arrests in eight states.

Following an investigation initiated by the The Humane Society of Missouri, officers from multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies made arrests and seized dogs in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas in what was “the largest simultaneous raid of multiple dogfighting operations in the history of the United States,” according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“This intervention is a momentous victory in our ongoing battle to end the cruel, criminal dogfighting industry,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. 

Pacelle reported on his blog: “Four United States Attorneys and a bevy of federal law enforcement agencies, along with The HSUS, The Humane Society of Missouri, and the ASPCA, raided multiple dogfighting operations, and seized at least 450 dogs, in what was the largest single day of actions against dogfighting in American history.”

The Humane Society of Missouri is sheltering more than 300 dogs —  mostly pit bulls — seized in the Missouri and Illinois raids. The dogs will be housed, cared for and evaluated at an  emergency shelter in St. Louis.

Read more »

A new and worthy field: Animal forensics

merckMelinda Merck, the ASPCA’s forensic vet, has teamed up with the University of Florida to establish a new animal forensics program— the first of its type in the nation.

Merck, who has helped solve some of the most notable animal crimes in history, including the Michael Vick dogfighting case, is moving to Gainesville to teach at the University of Florida. Her class was the subject of a feature story Friday in the St. Petersburg Times.

As the Times story points out, crimes against animals have gained increasing attention in the past few years. Police are charging more people with animal hoarding, dogfighting, abuse and neglect. And there’s a growing recognition that  people who hurt animals often go on to commit more serious crimes against humans — Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo (the Boston Strangler) and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), to name a few.

While more law schools are offering animal law classes, the animal forensics program at the University of Florida will be the first of its kind, but likely not the last.

Florida, the Times report notes,  seems to have more documented animal cruelty cases than most states — or maybe it does a better job of bringing them to light. Just in the past few weeks, a man in Miami was accused of being a serial killer of cats; a Tampa woman was jailed after she left her puppy in a hot car while shopping at Ikea; and another man was arrested for leaving two dogs in the bathroom of his apartment while he went to Las Vegas for two weeks.

In her partnership with the University of Florida, Merck will teach at the school’s College of Veterinary Medicine and continue her animal forensic investigations. The school plans to establish an animal forensic degree program that likely will start online this fall. Read more »