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ASPCA launches dog fighting DNA database

The ASPCA has launched the nation's first dog DNA database to help prosecute dog fighting cases.

The ASPCA has launched the nation's first dog DNA database to help prosecute dog fighting cases.

The system is similar to the FBI's human DNA database, a computerized archive that stores profiles of criminal offenders and crime scene evidence. Canine CODIS, as it is known, contains individual DNA profiles of dogs seized during dog fighting investigations and from samples collected at suspected dog fighting venues.

"Dog fighting is a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise that contributes to the cruel treatment and deaths of thousands of dogs nationwide every year," says Tim Rickey, the ASPCA's Senior Director of Field Investigations and Response. "This database is a vital component in the fight against animal cruelty and will allow us to strengthen cases against animal abusers and seek justice for their victims."

During an investigation, seized dogs will have their cheeks swabbed, and their DNA will be searched against the Canine CODIS database. Matching results will help law enforcement agencies identify relationships between dogs, and enable investigators to establish connections between breeders, trainers and dog fighters.

As ASPCA president Ed Sayres put it: "It can tie blood spatter on pit walls and clothing, or blood trails found outside of fighting pits, to a specific dog or dogs. This will allow us to tell the victims' stories--to be the voice of those animals that cannot speak for themselves."

"Juries expect forensic science to support the evidence that's presented to them, and animal cruelty cases are no exception," says ASPCA forensic veterinarian Dr. Melinda Merck, who testifies in animal cruelty cases around the country. "This database breaks new ground in supplying that evidence for dog fighting investigations."

Football star Michael Vick made dog fighting headline news when he was arrested for running an interstate dog fighting ring in 2007. Dog fighting is a felony in 50 states and underground fighting rings continue. The Humane Society of the United States just last week busted a dog fighting ring in Hampton, Va. seized five dogs (one of them pictured above). Two men were later arrested and charged with selling dogs for dog fighting.

The Humane Society of Missouri provided the initial 400 samples of dog DNA collected from dogs that were seized last July during the nation's largest dog-fighting seizure. The database will be maintained at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

For more information on the Canine CODIS database, visit the ASPCA's crime scene investigations page on its website.