Groundbreaking program helps bring animal abusers to justice

It's well-known that forensic science helps detectives solve murders. When it comes to cases of animal cruelty, however, there's a groundbreaking program for veterinary students in the Valley, and it is helping bring animal abusers to justice.

Veterinary Forensic Pathology is an emerging new specialty where veterinarians and students perform forensic necropsies.

In other words, animal autopsies.

These vets and students are not only looking for how an animal died, but also, in cases of abuse or neglect, helping find evidence that can help lead police to the person that allegedly committed the crime.

"We've had some horrendous cases here," said Dr. Nancy Bradley with Midwestern University in Glendale. "It just breaks our heart. It absolutely breaks our heart."

Midwestern University in Glendale is leading the way in a new field of veterinary medicine: forensic science.

"At its core, veterinary forensics is as a veterinarian addressing animal abuse, acting as an advocate for the animal," said Dr. Bradley.

Students at the school learn how to spot cases of animal abuse. Finding out how the animal died and work with law enforcement, with the goal of finding the person responsible.

"I feel compassion for this animal," said student Greg Gstrein. "Even though it's passed, even though it's gone through all this, I feel so passionately about this animal. So, I try my best to do whatever I can for these animals.."

Gstrein is a fourth year vet student. He said while it can be tough not being able to help animals who've been abused, it's a rewarding feeling when the abusers are brought to justice.

"After hearing that we had a potential perpetrator get arrested, that felt great," said Gstrein. "I almost did one of those fist pumps in the air, and just felt wonderful for that day knowing my work - my group's work - actually did something for this animal.

When three dogs were found shot to death in a dumpster in North Phoenix last may, it was a necropsy done at Midwestern that discovered a microchip, leading police to the suspect. The man, 50-year-old Troy Sauvageau, is currently facing multiple charges.

"We can get bad buys off the street with this," said Dr. Bradley. "Plus, we can stop them from hurting these animals."

The work that is being done here is often tough to handle, as it deals with helpless animals who've been physically abused, some even shot, and left to die.

"It's a real mystery trying to put these pieces together," said Alexandra Brower, the director of the Diagnostic Pathology Center. "You have to be very involved in the case if you're going to do it well."

Dr. Brower said the students know, through their work, they may be able to prevent other animals from being abused.

"It's really rewarding," said Dr. Brower. "The students love it, they're very excited about it."

"Somebody has to be that advocate for the animals," said Dr. Bradley. "If an animal truly has been abused, it needs to be addressed, it needs to be investigated, and it needs to be treated like any other crime."