In the Veterinary Forensic Sciences Laboratory, we study veterinary forensic science, including forensic pathology and forensic toxicology. In addition to research, Dr. Stern runs the Veterinary Forensic Pathology Service at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine. He also provides scene response for law enforcement and animal services when requested.
Dr. Courtney Valerio is a Fellow Candidate in Veterinary Forensic Pathology. She is studying the use of alternate matrices for toxicological testing in cats and dogs.
Ms. Daliana Roig is a Forensic Laboratory Assistant with the Veterinary Forensic Sciences Laboratory. She assists with day-to-day function of the laboratory and is involved in all aspects of our research.
Ms. Elizabeth Stocker is an undergraduate student currently assisting in laboratory research. Her research project focuses on the comparison of the use of two different urine drug screening tests in dogs and cats.
The research program in the Veterinary Forensic Sciences Laboratory focuses on studying multiple aspects of veterinary forensics through use of the veterinary forensic autopsy, ancillary diagnostics, and postmortem diagnostic imaging. Because victims of animal abuse are considered to be silent victims, since they are unable to tell us what happened, we need to be able to tell their stories using science. In the laboratory, we are investigating methods that will better improve forensic death investigations, increase the detection of animal abuse, and convey our findings to the courts.
Currently, research efforts within the Stern Forensics Laboratory include the investigation of mortality of community cats and dogs, postmortem vitreous chemistry, bone marrow fat analysis, forensic toxicology, and risk factors for animal abuse. Students interested in volunteering in the laboratory should contact Dr. Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Current Projects in the Stern Lab
There is limited information available pertaining to the cause of death and disease prevalence in stray cats and dogs.
Unfortunately, death investigations of a majority of free-roaming cats and dogs found deceased in the community are unlikely to be performed, as many of these animals will simply be picked up by local public works departments and disposed of.
Through our programs, A Dog Has No Name and A Cat Has No Name, we are currently investigating the cause of death of stray dogs and cats in order to obtain a better understanding of these mortality events. Some of the goals of this project include:
- Provide veterinarians and the public a better understanding as to the cause of death of stray animals
- Educate veterinary students and veterinary residents on how to perform forensic death investigations
Additionally, in some instances, animals are found to have died of unnatural causes. In these cases, we provide law enforcement with the forensic evidence needed to prosecute an animal crime.
Vitreous humor can be used to estimate a number of analytes commonly found in blood.
In humans, ocular fluid (vitreous) is commonly collected for toxicological analysis during forensic postmortem investigations. This fluid can be analyzed for potassium, sodium, chloride, urea nitrogen, creatinine, and glucose for estimation of time since death, assessment of renal function, evaluation of electrolyte imbalances, and hyperglycemia. The goal of our studies is to explore this modality for use during forensic postmortem investigations in a variety of animals including cats, dogs, horses, and marine mammals.
The percentage of fat in the bone marrow can be to support the diagnosis of emaciation.
We are currently exploring two methods to determine the amount of fat within bone marrow (microscopy and microwave analysis of total solids & moisture). We will establish a database of normal reference values of the percentage of bone marrow fat in domestic animals and compare those results to the percentage of bone marrow fat from emaciated animals.
The partnership between the Veterinary Forensic Sciences Laboratory and Volusia County Animal Services was recognized by Florida Animal Control Association. The partnership was awarded the 2021 Outstanding Cooperative Team Achievement Award.
As the field of veterinary forensics continues to develop, a forensic pathologist at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has created two programs, A Dog Has No Name and A Cat Has No Name, to investigate the deaths of unclaimed dogs and cats.