More people are testing their dogs’ DNA. That helped these 2 Philly siblings reunite.
Here’s what to know about the tests for pets.
When Anne Malkoff and her partner, Alexandra Cohn, adopted Goober, a scruffy mutt with black and tan fur patches and bright brown eyes, details on his history were fuzzy.
The Wilmington-based couple got him from Humane Animal Partners and were told he came from a Louisiana shelter. They were told he was about 1½ and probably a schnauzer mix. But that was it. Malkoff bought a $100 Embark DNA test — a popular kit that uses a swab from a dog’s cheek to inform owners of their breed mix, health conditions, and relatives — to fill in some blanks.
“Any time you take your dog out for a walk, people ask what kind of dog are they,” Malkoff said. “I was just so curious.”
What happened next was a pleasant surprise that reflects a growing trend.
The results are in
The DNA test revealed that he probably wasn’t a schnauzer at all, but rather a mix of Australian cattle dog, chow chow, coonhound, and pit bull. He also had a potential sibling close by.
On Embark’s platform, users can opt to share some of their information and message other dog owners. Malkoff saw that Goober had two direct relatives listed — Otto in Philadelphia, likely a brother; and Enzo, from Newark, Del., exact relation unclear.
Malkoff messaged both owners within Embark but didn’t initially hear back.
But Goober’s resemblance to Otto was uncanny to Malkoff. So after a few days, she turned to Facebook.
In a private group for women’s support in Philadelphia, Malkoff listed the information she knew, admitting that “it’s a stretch” and maybe even “creepy.” She asked if anyone knew of “Anna and her pup Otto.” Within the day, she had a lead.
A former coworker of Anna Wu’s saw the post and helped make the connection. Wu, who wasn’t available for an interview but provided photos from the dogs’ eventual meetup, told Malkoff that at least four people asked her about the post.
The pair met last month in Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown.
The meetup represents just one of a new wave of connections sparked by at-home DNA screenings — both furry and human.
Doggy DNA tests are a rising trend
Direct-to-consumer DNA testing and genetic screenings have become a billion-dollar industry, with companies like 23andMe, Everlywell, and MyHeritage selling users on easy access to their family history and insight on their health. The curiosity has also extended to pets, with an increasing handful of competitors selling kits.
According to a study by Reportlinker.com — a website that uses AI to publish reports on market trends — the global pet DNA testing market is expected to reach $640 million by 2030.
Experts say pet DNA tests can be a fun, social way to decode a mystery mutt’s lineage. An Embark Dog DNA Discussion Facebook group has 31,000 enthusiasts who discuss results with one another. On Reddit, a subreddit called DoggyDNA has more than 35,000 members.
Still, accuracy isn’t guaranteed. A report by CBC News showed inconsistent results among four dog DNA companies testing the same subjects.
“If you are talking about breed identification, the accuracy of the tests depends on the ‘DNA library’ that the company has access to,” said Margret Casal, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “The more breeds and wild dogs that are in the reference database, the more accurate the test is.”
DNA tests can also indicate if a pet is prone to certain health conditions or drug sensitivities. Casal said pet-relative reunions can be helpful in these cases, as finding relatives with the same condition can provide insight about specialized treatments.
“Genetics has become a big part of human medicine and should be in veterinary medicine as well,” Casal said.
Still, critics are concerned about how pet owners may react to the results.
In 2018, a group of scientists voiced issues with pet owners putting blind faith in DNA test results when it comes to a pet’s health care.
The only con is “misinterpretation,” Casal said, adding that genetic mutations may be confusing, and the tests won’t pick up every disease.
Dog reunions are happening across the country
As the tests become easier to access, more furry reunions are occurring.
In Chicago, a golden retriever mix who has been waiting over a year to be adopted was reunited with his sister thanks to an Embark test. They’re still going on play dates as he awaits adoption.
In Philadelphia, brothers Odie and Odin were reunited through an Embark test match. When they met in October, they played together “as if they were buddies,” Odie’s owner told the Guardian. Bella, a 10-year-old American Bully used as a breeder dog and then abandoned, went viral after her new owner found one of her daughters through Embark.
In her head, Malkoff said, she built up the dogs’ meetup in February for something similarly magical.
To her and Cohn, her partner, the meetup was a cute way to gain insight about the pups’ similarities and personality traits. For Goober and Otto, the meetup was an excuse to do some sniffing and to fetch some balls. Both dogs interacted and generally enjoyed themselves, but it wasn’t quite like something out of the movies.
Still, Malkoff said she was grateful for the chance to piece some of her dog’s story together.
“The dogs’ origin story is still a bit unclear,” she said. “We were told Goober came from Louisiana while Otto came from Tennessee. ... It’s just kind of wild that they came all this way and now live 30 minutes away from each other.”
They learned that neither dog barks much and that while Otto is still unsure of city life and sounds, Goober is a bit more mellow.
“I can’t say it was magical, but it was still really sweet and interesting to see their quirks,” Malkoff said. “And to be honest, Goober could not have cared less about the reunion. But it was all very wholesome.”