Vet in Michael Vick case offers to do post-mortem on slain rescue dog in Connecticut
Published 1:20 pm, Wednesday, September 22, 2010
A veterinary forensics expert who worked on the Michael Vick dogfighting investigation is offering to do a necropsy on the remains of Buddy, a German shepherd shot to death by its foster family in Connecticut, to determine if animal cruelty was involved.
Dr. Melinda Merck, senior director of veterinary forensic sciences for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, volunteered her services free of charge to the state's animal control office in an Aug. 31 letter.
Part of the Department of Agriculture, the state's animal control office delegated responsibility for the official investigation to Middlefield police, to whom Merck was referred.
The ASPCA claims that local authorities balked at the offer, however.
"It is disheartening that the Middlefield Police Department has declined the ASPCA's offer and is not interested in considering the findings of a necropsy in its investigation of Buddy's death," the ASPCA said in a statement. "Even when an animal has been buried for several weeks or months, Dr. Merck is able to determine the cause of death and determine if, in fact, a crime took place. Without this scientific evidence, the police have only the testimony of those involved to lead their investigation."
A message seeking comment was left Tuesday for Mike Polansky, the Middlefield police officer leading the probe.
Rescued from the Connecticut Humane Society's Westport shelter July 22, Buddy was placed with a foster family July 26 by an adoption network in Rowayton called Leader of the Rescue Pack.
The couple who adopted the 5-year-old German shepherd lives in Middlefield, a small town just east of Meriden.
But they had what the organization characterized as a major change of heart, with the woman saying the dog bit her and her boyfriend shooting the dog in the head before the group was able to arrange for its return.
"The fact that the ASPCA offered to do the necropsy for nothing and they refused to do it certainly raises some questions," said Camillo, a German shepherd owner himself who has frequently posted the profiles of dogs available for adoption on his Facebook page, including Buddy.
Polansky reiterated to the newspaper Sept. 7 that he had no plans to exhume the dog's remains and that his investigation would be concluding in about a week.
Ray Connors, the chief state animal control officer and supervisor of the Animal Control Division at the Department of Agriculture, backed up Polansky in an August interview, saying it wouldn't be fruitful to do a post-mortem on the dog's remains.
"With the amount of time that has gone by and the way the temperatures have been, there's nothing to examine," Connors said at the time.
Reached for comment Tuesday, Connors confirmed that the ASPCA had been in touch with his office.
"They were referred to the Middlefield Police Department because they're the lead investigative agency," said Connors, who characterized the role of his office as advisory in nature. "We don't interfere with another agency's investigation. They're more than qualified to conduct a law enforcement investigation. That's what they do."
Connors said it was his understanding that the investigation was still ongoing and that there was nothing abnormal about the length of time it was taking to prepare the report.
"It's not the only investigation that I'm sure they're investigating," Connors said. "They may have other pressing matters also."
Buddy's case has put a face on the campaign for tougher animal cruelty penalties in Connecticut.
Killing a dog owned by another person is punishable by a maximum jail sentence of six months and/or a maximum fine of $1,000, according to the state's animal control office. If probable cause is established that a case of animal cruelty occurred, the potential sentence goes up to one year. The crime only rises to a felony, which carries a maximum five-year sentence, if malicious intent can be proven.
The normal life expectancy of a German shepherd is about 13 years.
Connors said he was familiar with the work of Merck, who is also affiliated with Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida in Gainesville where she lives and is a consultant to the Fulton County district attorney's office in Atlanta.
Merck helped prosecutors build their animal cruelty case against Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback and current member of the Philadelphia Eagles who served 21 months in prison for running a dogfighting ring.
Camillo didn't buy Connors' explanation that it is normal for some investigations to take two months.
"We'll hear that until next year and the year after. It's hogwash," said Camillo, who represents eastern Greenwich, Riverside, North Mianus, Cos Cob and part of the downtown.
The ASPCA is nevertheless volunteering its resources in the case.
"The ASPCA's offer to exhume Buddy's body and perform a necropsy on his buried remains at no charge still stands, and we hope the Middlefield Police Department will accept our assistance in this case to determine if Buddy was the victim of animal cruelty," the organization said in a statement.