U Veterinary Lab helps police solve animal crimes

TBy Boa Lee The University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory performs millions of tests each year, including West Nile virus and chronic wasting disease scans.

Its customers include Como Zoo and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But what some might not realize is that the laboratory also serves the general public, veterinarians and police.

One such customer is the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department, which recently used the lab’s services to investigate a shooting.

In early January, a resident in the Grand Rapids, Minn., area found his horse bleeding. Approximately an hour later, the horse was dead.

At approximately the same time, another horse near Grand Rapids was bleeding from the mouth and nose. The horse’s owner said the animal was cleaned up and resumed normal behavior, but bleeding began again. Approximately a week later, the horse died.

Both horse carcasses were delivered to the laboratory for autopsies.

“We don’t get cases like this very often,” laboratory veterinarian pathologist Ilze Matise said. “It depends on how important the case is to police.”

Isanti County Chief Deputy Terry Snyder said the horse cases are important to the community and law enforcement because the two animals sustained injuries around the same time and were within a few miles of each other.

“I’ve worked in this department for over 20 years,” Snyder said. “And nothing like this has ever happened before.”

At the laboratory, pictures of the carcasses were taken and extensive records were kept for use as evidence by authorities. But Matise said compared to autopsies done in the past, there was a twist in the horse cases.

The first horse arrived frozen, and it was approximately a week before laboratory staff could run tests. After tests, examiners discovered a gunshot wound.

The second horse had been partially burned, which made it more fragile.

Examiners took X-rays to locate a bullet.

“It was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Matise said. “It was very time-consuming.”

Eventually, laboratory staff located a bullet in one horse’s intestinal tract. Matise said the bullet wound was only one centimeter in diameter.

Matise said he thinks the two horse deaths are unrelated. Laboratory staff did not find a bullet in the second horse but noted that there is an unexplainable hemorrhage in the horse’s head.

The work of the laboratory ends here, but there is more to be done for the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department.

“Since we have the bullet, we could possibly retrieve firearms from our suspects,” Synder said. “Then we will do ballistics comparisons.”

Snyder said it would be more difficult to solve the cases, had the laboratory not assisted with the autopsies.

“They were so complete and very willing to listen to you,” Snyder said. “They listened to your gut reaction and used that to help them analyze what happened.”

But it’s all in a day’s work for Matise and others at the laboratory.

“It’s very intellectually challenging,” Matise said.

“And when you get an answer, it’s very gratifying.”

Boa Lee is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]