It’s rare to catch a dog fighter in the middle of an actual fight, so when investigators are trying to convict suspected dog fighters, they need all the evidence they can get.
That’s where DNA and — even better — a dogfighting DNA database come into play.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of Missouri and the Louisiana SPCA have just established such a dogfighting database.
This international resource matches genetic samples to determine relationships between dogs seized in dogfighting rings. Information coming out of this database ultimately pinpoints people involved in breeding, training and operating dog fights.
The Canine Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) is operated by the Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California, Davis.
When fighting dogs are seized in a raid, their DNA is collected with either a simple cheek swab, or from other DNA on scene, like blood. The investigator submits the DNA profile to the U.C. Davis lab and the genetic profile is uploaded into the confidential database. If the genetic makeup links to a dog or a case in the system, the necessary authorities are alerted.
The database’s goal is to help the criminal justice system investigate and prosecute dogfighting cases using 21st century technology.
“Dogfighters can’t get around DNA. They can’t get rid of it without getting rid of their dogs,” says Dr. Melinda Merck, Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics at the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “We have to stay current on the science and forensic side, because dog fighters are very savvy. We have to stay one step ahead.”
Authorities decided to establish this database after linking 100 dogs to fighting lineages in the nation’s largest dogfighting raid in 2009. Those 100 dogs linked directly back to breeders and as Merck puts it, three people were directly profiled because of the DNA connections.
Merck believes that if you can link lineages of fighting dogs slowly, one by one, you can pinpoint dogfighting breeders and trainers, and eventually shut them down. After all, there are only so many established, champion fighting lines.
The FBI uses a similar database for violent crimes: a computerized archive that stores DNA profiles from criminal offenders and crime scenes that's used in criminal and missing person investigations.
In court, these resources can help prosecute dog fighters, since DNA enhances the case and can make it bigger by linking one scene to another and linking people to dogs.
Investigators aren’t required to submit the DNA, but animal cruelty authorities encourage them to do it.
Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states. Since dogfighting is illegal and underground, there are no official statistics on how many people are involved in dogfighting in the United States, but estimates range in the thousands.
For more information about dog fighting or to find out how to report a dog fighting incident, check out the ASPCA's website.