The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) announced Tuesday that the new Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database will contain DNA profiles from dogs seized during dogfighting investigations and from unidentified samples collected at dogfighting venues.
The database will be used to analyze and match fighting dogs’ DNA, which will enable law enforcement agencies to identify relationships between dogs and establish connections between breeders, trainers and dogfight operators.
The Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) provided the initial 400 DNA samples, which were collected from the hundreds of dogs seized last July in an eight-state dogfighting raid, the largest in U.S. history.
“Dogfighting is a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise that leads to the cruel treatment and deaths of thousands of dogs nationwide every year,” said Tim Rickey, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Field Investigation and Response, in a press release. “This database is an unprecedented and vital component in the fight against animal cruelty and will allow us to strengthen cases against animal abusers and seek justice for their victims.”
Although it is a federal crime and illegal in all 50 states, the ASPCA estimates there are tens of thousands of people involved in dogfighting.
The Canine CODIS is similar to the FBI’s human CODIS, which stores DNA from criminal offenders and crime scenes, and is used in criminal and missing person investigations. It was created by a team of ASPCA collaborators that along with Rickey included Kathryn Destreza, the Southeast regional director, Field Investigation and Response; Dr. Melinda Merck, senior director of Veterinary Forensic Sciences; and Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of Anti-Cruelty Initiatives and Training.
“This database will connect investigations across the country and internationally, creating multi-jurisdictional collaboration,” Destreza said. “It’s another tool we can use toward the elimination of dogfighting.”
Merck, who testifies as a forensic veterinary expert for animal cruelty cases, added, “Juries expect forensic science to support the evidence that’s presented to them, and animal cruelty cases are no exception. This database breaks new ground in supplying that evidence for dogfighting investigations.”
The Canine CODIS will be maintained in the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. It will only be available to law enforcement agencies. According to the ASPCA, when dogs are seized in dogfighting investigations, their inner cheeks will be swabbed to collect DNA in their saliva, and the samples will be submitted to the laboratory for DNA testing. Unidentified dog DNA samples from blood, saliva, tissue, bones, teeth, feces and urine found at dogfighting venues can also be submitted for testing.
The lab will analyze each DNA sample and search the database for matching profiles. If a match is found, the lab will notify the agency that submitted the new sample as well as the agency that submitted the existing sample.
“DNA evidence not only establishes links between owners, breeders, and dog fighting sites, it tells a story,” said Beth Wictum, director of the lab’s Forensics Unit. “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.”