Dog-Fighting DNA Database Breaks New Ground in Crackdown on Animal Cruelty

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The nation’s first criminal dog-fighting DNA database has been established by the American Society for the “Canine CODIS” Technology Unveiled by ASPCA, Humane Society of Missouri, Louisiana SPCA & University of California, Davis

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Dog fighting is a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise that leads to the cruel treatment and deaths of thousands of dogs nationwide every year

The nation’s first criminal dog-fighting DNA database has been established by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), The Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) and the Louisiana SPCA (LA/SPCA), and will be maintained at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Known as the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the database is designed to help the criminal justice system investigate and prosecute dog fighting cases and address the growing problem of dog fighting using 21st century technology.

“Dog fighting 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. “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.”

Rickey, the former Animal Cruelty Task Force Director at HSMO, Kathryn Destreza, the ASPCA’s Southeast Regional Director, Field Investigation and Response and formerly Director of Humane Law Enforcement for the Louisiana SPCA, and Dr. Melinda Merck, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Veterinary Forensic Sciences and the nation's premier forensic veterinarian, collaborated to create the database, working with Dr. Randall Lockwood, the ASPCA’s Senior Vice President of Anti-Cruelty Initiatives and Training.

“This database will connect investigations across the country and internationally, creating multi-jurisdictional collaboration,” said Ms. Destreza, who presented on the Canine CODIS at the recent Veterinary Forensics Conference in Orlando, Fla. "It’s another tool we can use toward the elimination of dog fighting.”

Dr. Merck, who testifies as a forensic veterinary expert for animal cruelty cases around the country, 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 dog fighting investigations.”

The Canine CODIS contains individual DNA profiles from dogs that have been seized during dog-fighting investigations and from unidentified samples collected at suspected dog-fighting venues. The HSMO provided the 400 original and initial samples of dog DNA collected from dogs that were seized last July during the nation’s largest dog-fighting seizure ever, a multi-state raid led by Mr. Rickey that followed an 18-month investigation by federal and state agencies.

The database is similar to the FBI’s human CODIS, a computerized archive that stores DNA profiles from criminal offenders and crime scenes and is used in criminal and missing person investigations. DNA analysis and matching through the database will help law enforcement agencies to identify relationships between dogs, enabling investigators to establish connections between breeders, trainers, and dog-fight operators. Blood collected from dog fighting sites will also be searched against the Canine CODIS database to identify the source.

“The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory has one of the largest sample databases in the world,” said Beth Wictum, Director of the Forensics Unit of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory in UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine. “This is important for estimating the rarity of a DNA profile. The Canine CODIS database is unique because it includes many more DNA markers than are normally tested, and that provides greater power when calculating match probability or assigning parentage.”

“When these cases come to trial, it’s important to make your strongest case,” she 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.”

How the Canine CODIS Database Works
DNA samples from animals have been used in forensics investigations for over 15 years to help solve criminal investigations. In some cases, the animal may be related to the suspect, the victim or the crime scene. In other cases, the animal itself is the victim or perpetrator.

In dog-fighting investigations, the dogs’ inner cheeks are swabbed to collect DNA in their saliva at the time they are seized. These swab samples are then submitted to UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory for DNA testing. Law enforcement agencies also collect DNA at suspected dog-fighting venues in samples of blood, saliva, tissue, bones, teeth, feces and urine. These unidentified DNA samples can be submitted to the laboratory at UC Davis for analysis and archiving in the database.

When an agency submits a sample to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, the DNA is analyzed and the Canine CODIS database is then searched for corresponding DNA profiles. In the event the database search locates a match for the submitted DNA, the lab will notify both the agency that submitted the new sample and the agency that submitted the existing sample. The Canine CODIS database is only available to law enforcement agencies; analysis is part of the cost of testing.

Dog Fighting Statistics
Although there are no official statistics, the ASPCA estimates that there are tens of thousands of people involved in dog fighting in the United States. Dog fighting is a federal crime, as well as a felony offense in all 50 U.S. states. For more information, visit

About the ASPCA®
Founded in 1866, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is the first humane organization established in the Americas and serves as the nation’s leading voice for animal welfare. One million supporters strong, the ASPCA’s mission is to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. As a 501 [c] [3] not-for-profit corporation, the ASPCA is a national leader in the areas of anti-cruelty, community outreach and animal health services. The ASPCA, which is headquartered in New York City, offers a wide range of programs, including a mobile clinic outreach initiative, its own humane law enforcement team, and a groundbreaking veterinary forensics team and mobile animal CSI unit. For more information, please visit

About UC, Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory
The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory is part of the UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine. Internationally recognized for its pioneering work in DNA-based animal testing, the lab offers an extensive animal-forensics service program; diagnostic testing for genetic diseases; parentage verification for breed registries; and support for genetic research in domestic animals, primates and wildlife.

About the Humane Society of Missouri
Since 1870, the Humane Society of Missouri has been dedicated to second chances, providing a safe and caring haven to all animals in need - large and small - that have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Its mission is to end the cycle of abuse and pet overpopulation through rescue and investigation efforts, spay/neuter programs and educational classes. HSMO is committed to creating lasting relationships between people and animals through our adoption programs and further supports that bond by making available world-class veterinary care, and outstanding pet obedience and behavior programs.

About the Louisiana SPCA
The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA/SPCA) is a private non-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of animal suffering. Chartered in 1888, it is the oldest and most comprehensive animal welfare organization in the state, providing care and basic medical services for thousands of homeless and unwanted animals each year. Its mission is to advocate for the animals of Louisiana by advancing their welfare, promoting their interests, and fostering the human/animal bond through innovative programs, education, and service.


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David Gautschy
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