True Tales of Canine CSI

Investigators turn to dog DNA to convict criminals and acquit the innocent.

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Profiling
At present, DNA has not been used to conjure up a sketch of the possible donor in terms of hair color, breed, or other identifying traits. This would be useful for profiling animal evidence when no leads are present; for example, investigators might be able to find out what kind of dog an unknown perpetrator owns. I have seen a number of studies that show promise in this regard, says Halverson, but it requires testing for many genetic markers and would not be feasible as a commercial service for some time to come. It may be useful in forensics, but most inquiries are just out of curiosity and the price tag would be too high.

Although Halverson admits she likes the cases where the victims dog is instrumental in catching the bad guy, one of her favorite cases was a non-criminal one. A breeder in Ireland had been accused of misrepresenting the parentage of a litter of racing Greyhounds. The Irish racing clubs DNA lab had claimed that one puppy could not be related to the dam it was registered to. Dr. Halverson, along with three other laboratories, found no such discrepancy. Her testimony allowed the dog to be reinstated, and the breeder to regain his good reputation as well as substantial financial compensation for his troubles.

Although most inquiries to canine forensics labs have a lot riding on the outcome, some appear pretty frivolous. People have contacted the labs wanting to prove a neighbors dog is responsible for leaving feces in their yard, or with samples of meat they've been served that they are sure must be from dogs or horses. The cost of analysis, which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, usually discourages them.

As dog forensics become more commonplace, dog owners may find their dogs protect them in yet another way. Smart criminals should avoid preying on pet owners, because those pets will tag the perpetrators with their DNA. Of course, smart criminals should also avoid being pet owners themselves and that's enough to make anyone go straight.

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