Guest blog by Natasha Whitling, Senior Manager of the ASPCA’s Media & Communications team
A chorus of north Florida bugs buzzed loudly while an animal control officer from Baltimore methodically scraped thin layers of sandy earth out of a shallow “grave.” The soil was deposited in a plastic bucket then carefully carried to a sifter, where it would be examined for small evidence items like shell casings and bone fragments.
The officer was one of about ten participants from across the country that attended an Animal Crime Scene Workshop in Gainesville, Florida, last week. Under the guidance of Dr. Jason Byrd, Forensic Entomologist and Director of Education of the ASPCA/University of Florida Veterinary Forensic Sciences program, and Amanda Fitch, Forensic Analyst for the ASPCA/University of Florida Veterinary Forensic Sciences program, participants spent three days collecting evidence and excavating mock gravesites.
Lectures covered a range of topics, including how to properly secure a crime scene, the collection of entomological evidence, and determining time of death. When lectures were complete, participants would trek a mile into the dense pine and saw palmetto forest to apply their new skills to mock crime scenes with real animal remains.
Patience and precision are a forensic expert’s constant companions. From the first moment on a crime scene, each potential piece of evidence must be identified, marked and eventually collected and accounted for. Every step is taken with extreme care to not only identify relevant evidence but ensure that it is not contaminated or damaged in any way.
The workshop—and a companion week-long workshop called Bugs, Bones and Botany traditionally offered in October—has trained hundreds of veterinarians, law enforcement officials and animal welfare professionals in the proper way to process an animal crime scene. Participants take the skills they learned back to their home cities and use them to fight animal cruelty—some almost immediately.
“I had one student turn around and use what they learned the very next day when they returned home,” Dr. Byrd said. “This is a really valuable hands-on experience that you just can’t get anywhere else.”
The ASPCA Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program is the nation’s first such curriculum within an educational institution. It promotes the application of forensic sciences to veterinary medicine to aid in the understanding, prevention and prosecution of animal cruelty. Since the program was launched in 2009, the ASPCA has provided nearly $1.6 million in grant funding to develop these initiatives.
Perdue Foods, the third-largest chicken producer in the country, announced that it has stopped using antibiotics in all of its chicken hatcheries. This shift reflects increasing consumer discomfort with the amount of antibiotics used to raise chickens. Food Safety News reports that “the company has used antibiotics for growth promotion since 2007 and continues to use antibiotics in some of its hatched birds,” so taking these steps to change is a big deal for Perdue. We’re glad some producers are listening and we encourage all consumers to demand better for chickens and for themselves with our supermarket request letter.
September is National Preparedness Month, and we’re busy helping pet parents get ready to face a natural disaster or emergency before it strikes. Here are three things you can do this month to help your pets weather a storm:
1. Download the ASPCA Mobile App. Our new app allows users to store critical pet records required to board pets at evacuation shelters, provides customized steps to search for lost pets, and includes a check-list of actions to take before, during and after a storm.
2. Microchip your pet! Microchipping could be your pet’s best ticket home if he becomes lost. The chip contains owner contact information and can be read by scanner at most animal shelters. Ask your veterinarian about microchipping your pet asap.
3. Attend our Google+ Hangout on September 18 at 7:00 P.M. ET. We’re bringing together experts from the ASPCA, FEMA and the USDA for a Google+ Hangout moderated by Good Morning America’s Ginger Zee. Topics will include how to prepare for a disaster with pets, what to do if a disaster strikes, and how to find pet-friendly evacuation locations. Join us!
Our long-standing supporter Fresh Step litter is ramping up its commitment to the ASPCA and shelters across the country with the launch of its Million Meow Mission to help shelter cats in need.
As part of the program, Fresh Step has revamped its Paw Points® rewards program to give shoppers the option to donate their accrued Paw Points to a local shelter or rescue organization of their choice. In turn, these shelters can redeem the points for free liter, toys and other products that help homeless cats lead happier, healthier lives.
The ASPCA Adoption Center is also eligible to receive Paw Point donations. All points will be used at our shelter and new neonatal kitten nursery, and as part of our Safety Net programs to help keep more cats and kittens in their homes, off the streets and out of shelters.
You can participate and learn how your points can make an important contribution to a local shelter or the ASPCA by visiting the Paw Points rewards page.
For a mini dachshund named Aaron, the road to a “forever home” was anything but smooth. Surrendered to the ASPCA in July 2013, the three-year-old pup was suffering from a whole host of medical problems—including a broken leg—and displayed behavioral issues like aggression and anxiety. We knew that he would need a patient adopter willing to earn his trust, and fortunately, a lifelong dachshund-lover named Marissa was up for the challenge. Here is their Happy Tail.
“Dogs are my passion in life,” says Marissa. She and her then-fiancé, Pete, already had a six-year-old dachshund when they decided they wanted another dog. But with a wedding on the way, Pete thought it would be best to wait until after their honeymoon to adopt a new furry friend. “I agreed, but the second we were home from the honeymoon I started looking for another dachshund,” says Marissa. On that very first night, she found Aaron on the ASPCA website.
“I particularly love dachshunds for all their great traits and endearing quirks, and I figured there was no way a dog as cute as Aaron would still be available,” she says. Sure enough, she called the ASPCA Adoption line at 10:59 A.M. the next day (it opens at 11), to inquire about little Aaron. We invited her to come in for a meeting.
At the meeting, Marissa learned a bit more about Aaron’s history. His previous owner surrendered him to the ASPCA when his myriad medical and emotional needs became more than she could handle. In addition to the leg—which had been broken by another dog before being treated at the ASPCA Animal Hospital—Aaron has a swallowing condition called cricopharyngeal dysfunction that requires twice-daily medication. On top of all that, he was a nervous dog who displayed aggressive behavior toward strangers and other animals. It was a lot of information to receive at one time, but Marissa was unphased. “That sounds like most dachshunds!” she laughed.
To make absolutely sure that Aaron was the right fit, Marissa asked Pete to come see him right away. “He had a meeting, but knew if he didn’t come to the ASPCA I would probably divorce him,” she jokes. He left work immediately and came to the ASPCA Adoption Center, where Aaron had surprised everyone by becoming friends with Marissa’s other dachshund, Oscar. Watching the two dogs play, we had all the confirmation we needed—this family was a perfect match.
After his adoption, Aaron relaxed happily into his new life. Marissa says, “He fit into our household very easily. He’s an absolute sweetheart and the adjustment went a lot smoother and quicker than we could have imagined.” Aaron seemed to forget his past trauma, and though his condition makes it hard to eat and drink water, the family does everything possible to make his life easier. “I think the love and compassion Aaron received at the ASPCA prepared him for his new life and a permanent home,” says Marissa. “We are so thankful for everything you’ve done for him.”