Animal Rights

DNA Dog Testing: More Questions than Answers

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The latest trend I am seeing involves DNA testing for dogs. Some offer home kits so the curious can see what their dog really is. Some suggest that knowing the prominent breed in a pet will help preempt behavior issues with proactive training techniques. Others suggest it can be a panacea in some legal matters. I say before blithely jumping in, selling home kits, creating databases, inviting DNA booths to dog walk festivals, and participating in a collective knee jerk response of blind acceptance - we think about the intended results, the unintended consequences, the ethics involved and what the criteria for best practices in the usage of this information should be.

Consider these questions: Should shelters allow adopters to delay an adoption pending a DNA test result? Should shelters be liable if an adopter discovers an undesirable breed in the genetic analysis home kit. Should they be liable if that dog bites a third party and a DNA test was not done? These tests cost $70.00 and above. Should the cost be borne by the shelter or the adopter? Will steeper costs affect adoptions? What percentage of pit bull in such a genetic analysis is enough to violate a ban? Can a city with a ban or spay/neuter mandate of certain breeds force pet owners to test and share results? Can homeowner's insurance providers require tests? Should organizations like the American Kennel Club be liable if the purchased pet isn't as "pedigree" as they represented? Should they provide the DNA results before the buyer does? What is pure, genetically speaking? Will these "new" undesirable dogs be euthanized?

The ASPCA created a DNA database from samples taken from dogs found at a dog fight. They not only collected samples from the fighting dogs, but also pets, guard dogs and any other dog found at the location. The stated purpose of such a canine codis is to strengthen dog fighting prosecutions.

Really? Consider these questions: How does it do that? Since they collected samples of non fighting dogs as well as fighting dogs, the database is already tainted and unreliable, unless being near a fighting dog is somehow significant. What about the siblings of fighting dogs that don't fight. What would a codis hit mean to a potential adopter? What would it mean to an adopter who takes and rehabilitates such a dog? Can this evidence be admitted in court yet? Who will lay the proper legal foundation that having a dog with a codis hit is actually a fighting dog, and that the owner of the dog is actually a fighter. What about a rehabilitated Michael Vick fighting dog who bites a burglar? Is that relevant to the bite circumstances? Is that prima facie proof the dog is vicious? Is it a presumption that the human companion burglary victim  is a dog fighter? What does it prove if law enforcement raids a home for stolen high definition televisions and seizes and removes a dog incident to the arrest whose DNA turns up in this database?

The ASPCA could be responsible for the euthanasia of dogs in and related to dogs in the database if down the line people could check adoptions against this. A dog merely from the same litter or an innocent dog at the scene that was not involved in the dog fight could scare a family away. In fact, could shelters with law enforcement personnel be required to check animals against this list or be liable for not checking should a mishap occur? What inferences, legal or otherwise could be made against the human companions of these "list dogs"?

Finally, as animals are legally property, the usual cast of privacy advocates is silent. But, remember, the humans associated with these animals do have rights and should not ignore or passively accede to this trend. 

This is piece is a call to action - to think this through. Good science can lead to bad consequences if the moral, ethical and legal uses are not established first. As far as I know, science has not yet figured out how to put the toothpaste back into the tube.