The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Humane Society of Missouri and the Louisiana SPCA reported on June 15, 2010 that they have launched the nation’s first criminal dog fighting DNA database, known as the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).
The database, which will be maintained at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, is designed to help the criminal justice system investigate and prosecute dog fighting cases. Dog fighting is a federal crime, as well as a felony offense in all 50 states.
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 ASPCA describes the database as that being 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 fighting operators, according to the ASPCA. Blood collected from the 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 U.C. 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. 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.”
In dog fighting investigations, the dogs’ inner cheeks are swabbed to collect DNA in their saliva at the time they are seized. Law enforcement agencies also collect DNA at suspect dog fighting venues in samples of blood, saliva, tissue, bones, teeth, feces and urine. Swab samples and the other samples are then submitted to the laboratory at U.C. Davis for analysis and archiving in the database.
When an agency submits a sample to the laboratory, the DNA is analyzed and the database is then searched for corresponding DNA profiles, according to the ASPCA. 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 ASPCA noted that the Canine CODIS database is only available to law enforcement agencies.