National DNA database to help curtail dogfighting

Monday, June 28, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A massive dogfighting investigation that started in Missouri last year was the impetus for a new nationwide database of DNA taken from animals seized during dogfighting cases.

The database is intended to help link abused animals to people who breed and train dogs for fighting. It allows investigators to compare blood and other genetic material left at the scene of a suspected fight to evidence gathered during other cases, The Kansas City Star reported.

"It's a major underground industry that is challenging to infiltrate and get convictions," said Tim Rickey, senior director of field investigations and response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Rickey previously worked for the Humane Society of Missouri and led the investigation last year into the largest dogfighting network ever uncovered in the country. Authorities charged defendants in several states and seized hundreds of animals, including more than 400 in Missouri and Southern Illinois.

That investigation spurred the development of the DNA database, said Debbie Hill, vice president of operations for the Humane Society of Missouri, which worked with the ASPCA and the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to establish the database.

The roughly 400 DNA samples taken from animals recovered as a result of last year's investigation were the first to be submitted to the database.

As more samples are submitted, investigators will be able to make connections between animals found in one state and breeders or trainers in another part of the country.

"That will put that dog, and by extension its owner, at the scene of a dog fight," said Beth Wictum, director of the forensic unit of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California-Davis, where the new database is maintained.

She said the lab also can identify bloodlines, tracing evidence to known, established fighting lines.

"This will give us a window into the world of dog fighting, and we can see how these bloodlines are carried from state to state. We may also identify new bloodlines," she said. "It also opens up lines of investigation as suspected breeders and trainers are scrutinized by law enforcement."

Information from: The Kansas City Star,

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