Forensics may be traditionally seen as a strictly human-related science, but a new master’s degree program at UF is extending it to four-legged companions and more.

UF’s Maples Center for Forensic Medicine now offers a new online master’s degree and graduate certificate program where students can take classes in veterinary forensics.

This program is the first in the country and is provided by the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in partnership with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The idea was developed after Jason Byrd, director of education for the ASPCA Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program, helped the organization with animal cruelty cases.

They started in-person workshops and training, which led to the idea that they could do it via distance education, Byrd said.

“There are a lot of veterinarians out there who need to know a good bit about forensic science because they’re essentially the medical examiner of the animal world,” Byrd said.

Through the program, students can receive a graduate certificate and a thesis or non-thesis master’s degree in veterinary forensic sciences.

The ASPCA helps fund the program. In exchange, the veterinary forensic science team helps with its animal cruelty cases.

“It’s more than just the educational program,” Byrd said. “It’s actually casework, which makes the educational program better.”

Will Smith, a 21-year-old UF biology junior, said he has wanted to be a veterinarian ever since he helped his dad perform surgery on a cat when he was five years old.

In addition, Smith has taken a forensic science class at UF.

“I took one and it was really interesting, so I think that would be really cool if they would have one for vets,” Smith said.

These programs are not just for veterinarians, Byrd said. Anyone can take the class as long as they have a four-year degree.

Katherine Rivera, a 20-year-old UF animal science junior who works with animal rescues, said she would love to take a class in the program.

“I think that it’s something new and another direction you can go with the animal sciences,” Rivera said.

The first online classes for the graduate certificate opened in Fall 2010, but January marked the start of the program’s first classes in the master’s degree program.

Summer 2014 will be the first full semester in the program, Byrd said.

[A version of this story ran on page 3 on 1/31/2014 under the headline "New vet program helps prevent cruelty"]