A U.S. expert in animal forensics is assisting the B.C. SPCA with their investigation into the spate of cat mutilations in Maple Ridge.
Dr. Melinda Merck, a renowned animal crime scene specialist from Atlanta, investigated the Whistler sled dog killings and helped build a case against NFL player Michael Vick for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.
She frequently testifies as a forensic expert for animal cruelty cases around the U.S.
Merck is currently advising the SPCA via phone, but will most likely travel to Canada to view the remains of mutilated 24 cats that have been discovered around Maple Ridge.
“What I’m going to be looking for is whether there is evidence of a predator attack versus humans,” said Merck, who also trains veterinary and law enforcement professionals to gather evidence in animal cruelty cases.
Merck will re-evaluate investigation reports and review crime scene photographs, but also look for DNA from a predator or human in the cats’ mouths and on their claws.
But determining if a cat died in the jaws of a coyote or if it was sawed in half by a human isn’t easy.
Merck is among several people being sued by Tyler Weinman, a Florida man who was charged with killing 19 cats in 2009.
Prosecutors eventually abandoned their case against Weinman when it was scientifically determined at least eight of the cats were actually killed by dogs. The bodies of the other 11 were destroyed and couldn’t be properly tested.
Merck did not examine all the bodies herself, but agreed with the findings of another investigator, who determined the cats were killed by a human being.
“The examinations were actually done by local veterinarians and they had missed some of the signs,”‘ Merck explains.
“It is easy to do that without experience or guidance. Unfortunately, not all of [the bodies] were available to be re-examined.”
The Miami case means Merck will be especially cautious when examining the evidence from Maple Ridge.
The B.C. SPCA, however, believes many of the cats were sliced by a saw or knife.
Maple Ridge vet Dr. Adrian Walton looked at several carcasses in March and told the SPCA to order full necropsies on the animals after he noticed clean cuts on their bones.
Also, in at least one instance, the collar of a cat was placed neatly beside its severed head on the owner’s lawn.
Merck, though, counsels against jumping to conclusions.
“Is it a pattern from a person or a pattern from predators?” said Merck, noting that finding animal body parts is not an uncommon thing.
“It’s not easy to tell.”
Merck recommends that anyone who finds a cat head or body part to secure the scene until the SPCA or police can collect the evidence.
“Don’t let anybody touch anything until they get there,” she said.
“Everything is critical and should be left as it was found for the evidence to be properly analysed, just like a human crime scene.”
For now, Merck recommends Maple Ridge residents keep their pets inside and report any suspicious activity in their neighbourhood to police.
“As with most crimes, someone knows something and if they call the authorities that’s how most cases are solved.”
In the past year, a total of 24 dismembered cats have been found in Maple Ridge, mostly in an area between 217th and 230th streets.