CSI Canine: Dog DNA Can Help Cops Nab Dog-Fight Criminals

By Joseph Calamia | June 29, 2010 5:42 pm

pitbullInvestigators are now swabbing dog cheeks. A dog DNA database–similar to the one the FBI keeps for criminals–may help to deter dog-fighting.

Dog-fighting is a federal crime and a felony offense in every U.S. state, but it’s difficult to detect and stop. Officers rarely catch fighters in the act, and the industry, as a multimillion-dollar business, makes money not only from gambling on the violent and often fatal matches, but also from breeding and selling champion dogs.

The New York Times reports that some dogs sell for as high as $50,000 dollars. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that there could be tens of thousands of people involved in dog fighting in the United States.

So where does the genetics come in?

Selective, champion breeding means that many fighting dogs come from traceable bloodlines. Enter dog DNA. A veterinary genetics lab at the University of California-Davis maintains the database, called The Canine CODIS, which can help investigators connect one dog to known fighters’ bloodlines.

“People are not generally going to the pound and buying pit bulls to fight—these dogs are from established bloodlines,” said Tim Rickey, senior director of field investigations and response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “And if a suspected dog fighter’s animal matches one of those bloodlines, that would be a key piece of evidence.” [The New York Times]

The first DNA for the database came from a the largest dog-fighting crackdown in U.S. history, which took place last July after an 18-month investigation and involved a total of around 400 different animals from seven different states. The project’s members believe that this new database will not only help states get more convictions, but also help investigators discover how the crime spreads–hopefully allowing them to save and rehabilitate more dogs.

“[The DNA] will put that dog, and by extension its owner, at the scene of a dog fight,” said Beth Wictum, director of the forensic unit of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory…. “This will give us a window into the world of dog fighting, and we can see how these bloodlines are carried from state to state.” [The Kansas City Star]

The database is a collaboration between the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Humane Society of Missouri, and the Louisiana SPCA. Wictum believes that this DNA can bring justice for executed fighting dogs found abandoned on roadsides and animals severely malformed from abuse.

“When these cases come to trial, it’s important to make your strongest case,” [Wictum] adds. “DNA evidence not only establishes links between owners, breeders, and dog fighting sites, it tells a story. We can tie blood spatter on pit walls and clothing, or blood trails found outside of the pit, to a specific dog and tell his story for him. We become the voice for those victims.” [ASPCA]

Related content:
80beats: Dogs Think Like Babies, While Wolves Think for Themselves
80beats: Will Dog Cloning Become Mainstream as the Price Drops?
80beats: Where Did Dogs First Become Man’s Best Friend?
80beats: Revealed: The Genetic Secret of the Dachshund’s Stubby Legs
80beats: Wolves Have Dogs to Thank for Their Dark Fur

Image: flickr / audreyjm529

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