Animal programs

Veterinary forensic specialist seeks to identify cases of animal abuse in Japan

TOKYO – As there have been increasingly serious cases of cruelty to dogs, cats and other pets in Japan, veterinary forensic scientists who perform autopsies on dead animals play an important role in investigations as part of the police repression of malicious cases. The Mainichi Shimbun spoke to Aki Tanaka, 48, a professor at Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University who is one of the few people studying the specialized field of veterinary forensic medicine in the country, to question him on the reality of animal abuse and their investigations. .

Almost every day, Tanaka’s lab receives requests for autopsies of cats, dogs, birds and other animals suspected of having been abused by the country’s police who wonder if these creatures have died of traffic accidents or abuse.

In the fall of 2019, the corpse of a cat, apparently found on a baseball field, was brought to Tanaka’s laboratory by police in the Kanto region. Although he suffered no noticeable external injuries, seven or eight cats were also found dead in the vicinity.

A session to hand over rescued cats to those who wish to adopt them takes place at a hardware store in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture on September 5, 2021. (Mainichi / Hayato Narisawa)

An autopsy revealed that there were bruises all over the cat’s body under its skin. Her internal organs were damaged and the cat lost large amounts of blood. He had been hit several times with a blunt object. Tanaka estimated the timing of the assault from the state of the food in the cat’s stomach, as well as the extent to which rigor mortis had set in. She said police then found a suspicious figure in security camera footage after inspecting him based on the autopsy results.

“We are dealing with animals that cannot speak. I make sure not to overlook any discovery,” Tanaka said emphatically.

Since the skin of animals is thicker than that of humans and is covered with fur, bruises do not easily stay on the body even if attacked. If the external lesions are concentrated in a partial area, it is increasingly likely that they have been abused, but it would be difficult to be sure, even with experience.

Tanaka lived in the UK from fifth grade to second year of high school, due to his father’s job. She had the opportunity to visit local animal shelters around the country and decided to become a vet after being shocked that dogs and cats were being handed over to their new owners. It was because she had always thought that ownerless cats and dogs were all slaughtered. What she saw there – animals in shelters finding new families – is what made her want to do animal-related work without owners.

Aki Tanaka, senior lecturer at Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University, is seen in Musashino, a suburb of Tokyo on November 30, 2021. (Mainichi / Takuya Suzuki)

After returning to Japan, Tanaka graduated from Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in 1998. In 2001, she studied abroad at the University of California at Davis, which offers a shelter medicine program to study means of medically examining animals and managing their health. , and acquired the know-how of veterinary forensic medicine.

In Japan, autopsies to identify animal abuse had rarely been performed. In 2014, Tanaka joined Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University as a researcher and is currently a lecturer for the institution. She dissected several hundred corpses in her lab, and among them it was apparently confirmed that around 70-80% showed signs of abuse.

Investigators trust forensic veterinarians like Tanaka and see them as an “extremely important presence” because “cases cannot be determined by police alone, and autopsies by vets become the starting point for investigations. in many cases “.

However, there are only a handful of vets who have studied veterinary medicine in Japan, and promoting human resources has been a challenge. Tanaka, who established the Japan Association of Veterinary Forensic Medicine, collaborated with the Ministry of the Environment to organize training sessions targeting veterinarians and engaged in efforts to disseminate veterinary forensic medicine across the country. . She said: “I would like to create a strong system for raising vets who have learned forensic skills. ”

There has been an increase in the number of people keeping dogs and cats as pets as they seek comfort at home amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Japan Pet Food Association, the number of newly kept dogs in 2020 was 462,000, up 14% from the previous year, while the number of cats was 483,000, an increase of 16% . The association said: “The tally for 2020 has grown at the fastest rate in the past five years, and the number of pets kept during the year was also the highest. The coronavirus appears to be an influencing factor. ”

Meanwhile, according to the National Police Agency (NPA), the number of arrests or crackdowns by the national police over alleged violations of the Animal Welfare and Management Act has been on the rise since 2010. , which recorded 33 such cases. In 2020, there were 102 cases, the second highest number after 105 cases in 2019. The NPA believes that an increase in public awareness of animal welfare has led to an increase in the number of reports filed with the police.

The Animal Welfare and Management Act was amended in June 2020, and the legal penalty for killing or injuring pets without reason has been changed from “jail time with labor for two years or less , or a fine of 2 million yen or less “to” “imprisonment with labor for five years or less, or a fine of 5 million yen or less. In addition, veterinarians who have been asked to make the effort to report cases of suspected abuse to relevant agencies are now required to report cases.

(Japanese original by Takuya Suzuki, Tokyo City News Service)