Taking the bite out of canine crime

Tasha and Maxine If you think its unusual for a crime to be solved using canine DNA, think again. Sounds like a CSI case? When Marilyn Christian’s beloved cat, Cody, was found dead under suspicious circumstances two years ago, she vowed to seek justice. Christian suggested to animal control officers that perhaps they could take a DNA swab of her neighbor's dog, Lucky, to find out if he had anything to do with Cody's death. Cody had hairs on his paws and in his mouth that seemed to be a match for Lucky, but animal control officers basically felt Christian was watching too much CSI. Eventually, Marilyn Christian paid $500 for a DNA test and what do you know?

The DNA of Lucky was sent to a Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California at Davis, which has the largest database of domesticated-animal DNA in the country. The result? A one in 67 million chance the hair belonged to any animal other than Lucky. While she didn't get the justice she was seeking (the owners and Lucky moved away and animal control officers would not declare Lucky to be a vicious animal), she did prove he was the culprit behind her beloved cat's death. Whether the animal is a victim, perpetrator or even a witness, DNA of animals is becoming more widely used to help solve crimes. When someone loses their family pet, it becomes personal and emotions run high. Pet owners seek resolutions if they've lost a family pet due to aggressive neighborhood dogs or even perhaps something worse such as a crime committed towards their pet by a neighbor. Law enforcement officials have come to share Marilyn's interest in applying forensic methods to cases involving animals, to include the Goldendoodle dog.

Gypsy Blue. A silver frost Goldendoodle by Goldendoodle World.

Beth Wictum, acting director of the lab’s forensics division, has said that an animal's DNA can help tremendously when trying to solve cases involving animals. "There’s some real serious cases where animal DNA has played a role in helping solve a case," said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, a DNA expert who has asked investigators to collect DNA samples from murder suspects’ pets at crime scenes. “I believe, over time, DNA will be used more and more to help solve cases that involve an owner's animal." Beth Wictum’s lab usually handles between 150 to 200 cases per year sent to their lab from around the world. Using animal DNA to solve cases is not the only reason it is sent to genetic laboratories. Animal Scientists deal with issues, as well, other than pet-on-pet attacks. They also process evidence from cases involving animal attacks on humans, human attacks on animals, and even human crimes against each other in which an animal may yield important clues. In one case, the lab used DNA testing to match dog excrement found on the bottom of a murder suspect’s shoe to excrement found near the crime scene — a piece of evidence that helped secure the man’s conviction. In yet another, a woman could not identify a man in a line up suspected of attacking her but she did remember that her dog had urinated on the man's truck tires! The dog’s DNA matched DNA traces found on the truck’s tire and the suspect pleaded guilty.

ASPCA forensic veterinarian Melinda Merck relies on the same techniques as standard crime scene investigators; ballistics, toxicology, blood spatter analysis to help solve animal cruelty cases across the country. As the interest for using animal DNA grows, in helping solve crimes, so does the need for more training. Colleges are just now beginning to take note. This year, Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine began offering a forensic veterinary medicine course, believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Professor Janice Sojka said she recognizes a need for the course after noticing a recent explosion of interest in the field.

Author/breeder: Dee Gerrish *Goldendoodle World* 2007