Dr. Alison Liu obtained her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 2011. After completing a small animal medicine and surgery internship at the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City, she returned to the Midwest to work as a Shelter Veterinarian at Wayside Waifs in Kansas City, Missouri. During her nearly three years as Shelter Veterinarian, Dr. Liu also continued to assist the ASPCA with large-scale animal cruelty cases.
Dr. Liu has been a Forensic Veterinarian with the ASPCA’s Forensic Sciences Team in New York City since 2015. She helps support the ASPCA’s partnership with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) by providing forensic evaluation of both live and deceased animals that are evidence in criminal animal cruelty investigations. She has served as an expert witness in over 40 cases in New York City criminal courts.
Q: How did you choose to become a forensic veterinarian?
A: I initially became interested in working with homeless and abused animals before I went to veterinary school. I grew up with a variety of adopted dogs and small mammals and volunteered at an animal shelter when I was in high school. After my rotating internship in medicine and surgery at the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City, I worked at an animal shelter for three years where I gained a broad experience in surgery, infectious diseases, and population management, but missed having a greater impact on cruelty cases and animal victims of abuse and neglect. In 2015, during the second year of the ASPCA’s partnership with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), a third Forensic Veterinarian position was added to support the caseload. I was excited for the opportunity to return to the ASPCA to fulfill this unique role and help animals in New York City.
Q: What is your typical day working as a forensic veterinarian at ASPCA hospital?
A: As a forensic veterinarian at the ASPCA, there is no typical day, which keeps my work interesting and rewarding. The Forensic Sciences team supports the ASPCA’s partnership with the NYPD. Through this partnership, the NYPD responds to and investigates complaints of animal cruelty and neglect in New York City and we provide the forensic evaluation of animals that are evidence in the cases. Because our work is dependent on NYPD responding to complaints from the community, we never know what type of case we will be assisting with on any given day. I may have an emaciated dog to examine one day and a deceased cat to perform a necropsy on the next.
Q: What are some challenges you have faced in the veterinary field?
A: One of the most challenging aspects about my work (and one area I get asked about frequently) is how do I handle seeing so many sick and injured animals? This is a constant struggle that veterinarians in many fields face. While it can be difficult to work with so many severely injured animals, it is rewarding to assist in their recovery and help give them a second chance. Additionally, the field of veterinary forensic sciences helps prevent future animal cruelty situations from happening. Contributing to positive outcomes and cruelty prevention helps to balance some of the more challenging aspects of the job. I feel very fortunate to be a part of a team that provides animal victims of alleged cruelty with expert medical and behavioral care.
Over the past few years, I have learned to establish healthy work boundaries and prioritize taking care of myself and my mental health. While it is not always easy, continuing to work on these things has helped me be more productive and sustainable in this field and combat compassion fatigue.
Q: What advice would you give to students interested in veterinary forensics?
A: While there are currently very few formal positions for veterinarians specifically in veterinary forensics, one of the most important roles veterinarians have is recognizing and reporting suspected cases of animal cruelty. Most veterinarians who are working in clinical practice settings will be exposed to animal cruelty. Increasing your awareness and knowledge base can help you be better prepared for when you are faced with a possible cruelty case. Reporting laws vary by state, so veterinarians should familiarize themselves with their state’s law. In some states, veterinarians are mandated reporters, meaning they are required legally to report if they suspect cruelty. It’s also important to find out which agency to report to as this varies by community. Our Forensic Sciences team has developed some great resources for veterinary professionals that aid with recognizing and reporting, which can be accessed on ASPCApro.
Veterinary students interested in veterinary forensics can also seek out continued education and externship opportunities. The ASPCA offers several different externships through the Forensic Sciences team at the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City as well as at the ASPCA Veterinary Forensic Science Center in Gainesville, Florida.
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