Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine plays special role in Westport farm animal cruelty case

sheep at Cummings School
Sheep are among the livestock at Cummings School. The school's expertise with livestock and large animals has helped meet the needs of farm animals found in Westport, Mass. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)
September 13, 2016

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Patrick Collins

GRAFTON, Mass. (September 13, 2016) --  Faculty, staff technicians, students and alumni from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University have joined dozens of other organizations and individuals  in aiding more than 1,000 animals found on a rural property in Westport, Mass., in what the ASPCA believes to be the largest-ever farm animal cruelty case in the Northeast.  

"I've never been involved in an operation to this scale," said Melissa Mazan, DVM, and associate professor at Tufts' Hospital for Large Animals (HLA) in Grafton, who specializes in large animal internal medicine.   

Reports of the case made headlines in late July, and the ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team, working with local and state authorities, identified a critical need for Massachusetts state licensed veterinarians, particularly large animal vets with varied farm animal experience.  

Cummings School, the only school of veterinary medicine in New England, and its multi-faceted Cummings Veterinary Medical Center offered unique expertise in caring for the wide range of species involved.

"Tufts has been an incredible resource," said David Schwarz, DVM, a member of the Massachusetts Medical Veterinary Association and team leader of the State of Massachusetts Animal Response Team (SMART), which worked closely with the ASPCA. "The school did a wonderful job of staying focused and thoughtful, saying let's find out what kind of help is needed and then see how Tufts can fit in."

What made the contribution of Cummings School particularly valuable was its broad expertise in livestock and large animal care and its cadre of alumni as well as students, faculty and staff. 

"Knowing how to handle livestock is essential in being able to treat them," explained Dr. Julia Wilkinson, DVM, of Tufts Ambulatory Service in Woodstock, Conn., which provided around-the-clock ambulatory care for a variety of farm animals removed from the property.  

Four of the service's vets traveled to Westport, and there were often three or four fourth-year Cummings School students working under licensed veterinarians as well. Under veterinary supervision, for example, the students helped ensure that the livestock received necessary vaccinations and were appropriately triaged.   

"This was an eye opener for our students, but it also had a positive impact on them because they could see what an impact they could have," said Wilkinson.

Veterinarians, technicians and students on rotation at the HLA also lent a hand. Students "nimbly corralled calves and rounded up pigs, examined horses and chickens and rabbits – the full livestock gambit," said Mazan.

In addition, numerous small animal veterinarians from the Foster Hospital for Small Animals and its alumni ranks stepped up to assist in the overall rescue effort.

"I was first contacted by two of our alums, Dr. Maria Mutty and Dr. Jacqueline Warner, who work in the Westport area.  They are really the heroes," said Mazan. "They are both small animal veterinarians who heard the need and stepped in valiantly despite having had no large animal experience for over 15 years."

Other specialized expertise at Cummings School also came into play. The Wildlife Clinic contributed insight into water testing of a carp pool and contacts with specialists at the New England Aquarium.  And Cummings School veterinary pathologists helped in examining animals as well as preventing spread of disease.

As of early September, the ASPCA said that more than 200 animals had been placed with rescue organizations, and the remainder are receiving ongoing care at an emergency shelter. The need for veterinarian support, particularly from large animal clinicians, continues to be critical.

"Sheltering and providing daily care for more than a thousand animals is a daunting undertaking," said Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. "We are grateful for groups like Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and many others for supporting this massive operation through dedicated, qualified volunteers to provide much-needed care for these animals."

About Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University
Founded in 1978 in North Grafton, Mass., Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is internationally esteemed for academic programs that impact society and the practice of veterinary medicine; seven teaching hospitals and clinics that combined log more than 80,000 animal cases each year; and groundbreaking research that benefits animal, human, and environmental health.