The bone collector

UF student paving the way in first-of-its-kind veterinary forensics fellowship

By Sarah Carey

While most people were picking out Thanksgiving turkeys to serve at family gatherings, Nanny Wenzlow, D.V.M., was just looking for a few good carcasses.

Wenzlow is UF’s first fellow in its new veterinary forensic pathology fellowship, a first-of-its-kind program established in the fall to provide formal training to those in the growing field of veterinary forensic pathology. As part of her studies, she bought and unwrapped three frozen turkeys, carried them into the woods near the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and left them for several days. During that time, she and a forensic entomologist regularly returned to the site to collect adult flies, eggs and maggots.

“We worked to identify which species would come and deposit eggs on a carcass, and to double-check the time of colonization using the oldest maggots on the carcass that we could collect over time,” Wenzlow said.

In the world of veterinary forensic pathology, no clue is too small. The field is a niche of veterinary medicine that combines the disciplines of pathology, osteology, toxicology and entomology with clinical veterinary knowledge. Yet while the field has become a significant legal asset in cases involving allegations of animal neglect or criminal behavior, veterinary medical education lacks the formal training physicians receive when specializing in human forensic pathology, said Lisa Farina, D.V.M., a clinical assistant professor of pathology at the UF veterinary college.

“As veterinary pathologists, we’re trained in distinguishing death from natural disease, trauma and intoxication or other causes,” she said. “But we can’t necessarily tell which wound occurred first, or which angle injuries came from, or which weapon was used.”

To establish the fellowship, Farina applied for a grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The society approved approximately $40,000 for one yearlong fellowship in 2013. Farina hopes to continue the program with another fellow next year.

Michael Warren, Ph.D., director of UF’s C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory and an assistant director of the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine, called Wenzlow’s fellowship a step in bridging a significant gap in knowledge and research related to the investigation of animal cruelty cases.

“Nanny’s talent and interests are a launching point for an entirely new field of inquiry — non-human osteology (the study of bones) and forensic analysis of the skeletal remains of animals who have been victims of criminal abuse and torture,” said Warren, who also serves as the William H. Garmany Term Professor of Human Rights and Social Justice in the anthropology department of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“She is taking on the role filled by forensic anthropologists in human cases. We understand the relationship between animal cruelty and its eventual path toward human cruelty and criminal behavior. The Pound Lab is proud to contribute to this new field and play some small role in the education of these very special practitioners.”

Wenzlow’s interest in forensic veterinary pathology isn’t new. A Ph.D. student in the College of Veterinary Medicine who was already studying molecular forensic pathology in the laboratory of Maureen Long, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of infectious diseases at the college, Wenzlow is taking a year off her doctoral work to complete the fellowship. Prior to her Ph.D. studies, she served as a clinical instructor of anatomic pathology at UF.

In addition to her work in the field, the majority of Wenzlow’s time is spent at the local Medical Examiner’s Office, where she has been assisting and shadowing Martha Burt, M.D., director of UF’s autopsy services and the associate medical examiner for Florida’s District 8. After that, she spends time in the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory, which performs analyses of skeletal remains for many of the state’s 24 medical examiner districts.

“In cases where only skeletonized remains are found, medical examiners submit these to anthropologists, who can help determine ancestry, sex, stature, age at death and how long a body might have been buried or exposed — what’s referred to as the postmortem interval,” Wenzlow said.

“In veterinary medicine, we’re not so advanced in determining these criteria, but we need to be able to look at bones and determine a pathology diagnosis on them,” she said. “First, what are we dealing with? Then, what happened? What can we tell from the bones? It’s this ‘What happened and when’ aspect I’m interested in when it comes to animal remains.”