Dogs Saved by DNA Testing

April 15, 2008 at 3:46 pm 11 comments

Mindy is a canine victim of profiling. She was labeled a pitbull and that made it hard to find someone to adopt her, so shelter volunteers turned to science.”

After being abandoned, Mindy spent 6 months at the Trumbull, Connecticut Shelter.  Because she looked like a pitbull, no one wanted to adopt her, so shelter workers looking for a way to help the sweet-natured dog find a home decided to solicit donations to test Mindy’s DNA to find out what she really was.

“Mindy is about 70-percent boxer and also bull terrier. She has some bulldog further down the line and a little bit of English cocker. So much for pit bull. What Mindy also has is a great personality and a bouncing, prancing way of getting around.”

“This is the first time a dog at the shelter has had its DNA checked to help get it adopted. If it works Mindy, she may not be the last.”

Chalk up another victory for DNA in Kansas City where a man recently won an eight month legal battle with the city to keep his dog after a DNA test showed the dog wasn’t a pit bull.
Niko spent eight months at KCK Animal Control Kennels during his owners fight with the city.  Animal Control Staff said the dog was a pitbull (a breed banned in the city), despite his owner’s assertion that  Niko is a boxer mix.
When Niko’s family put up an ad trying to find him a new home, Animal Control saw it and confiscated him, stating that he was a pit bull — even though his owner had paperwork that stated the dog a boxer.  According to Niko’s owner, Animal Control staff refused to even look at the paperwork.

Even as evidence mounts that breed specific legislation is difficult to enforce and that it doesn’t result in decreased dog bite statistics, pitbull bans continue to crop up all over the country.

Part of the problem is that it is impossible to define exactly what a ‘pitbull’ is.

The term pitbull does not refer to a specific breed of dog.  It is a generic term used to a group of dogs with similar traits and characteristics.  Literally dozens of breeds have been pigeonholed together in the generic ‘pitbull’ classification.

Many of those breeds are not included by name in breed specific legislation – but because of their appearance (and an overly broad definition of what a ‘pitbull’ is), members of dozens of breeds — and mixes of those breeds — are called ‘pitbulls’ by shelters, law enforcement, media and the public at large.

Despite what media reports, legislators, law enforcement and others might suggest, it is simply impossible to determine what breed or breed mix a dog is, without a verifiable pedigree or accurate DNA test. 

In spite of this, thousands of dogs are affected by ‘breed specific’ legislation (an obvious oxymoron) because they have short coats, broad heads and muscular bodies – and because people obsessed with labeling insist on pigeonholing this wonderful and very diverse group of dogs into one insanely broad category.

If you ask me, using a DNA test to say that a dog isn’t a pitbull is a little bit like using one to tell me that my horse isn’t a unicorn.  But – if that test can save more dogs from confiscation or death – it’s a very good thing.


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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Caveat  |  April 15, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I’m in favour of anything that saves dogs but I’m not convinced these DNA tests are what they are advertised as – scientifically accurate breed ancestry identifications.

    Since we pretty much know that bull and terrier types are descended from dogs like Dalmatians, the now MIA English White terrier, the Manchester and bulldogs ( mastiff types) among others, we’d have to test a purebred bull and terrier breed to see what crops up in the ancestry. Breeds just don’t differ that much and one of these companies states in press releases that it cannot identify purebreds. Someone in our group called and was told the success rate is about 30%.

    The whole thing is so completely crazy that what we are doing is trying to fight insanity with reason. Talk about an uphill battle.

    In Ontario, the breed of the dog is actually irrelevant, unless it is a purebred named in the law. It’s whether or not the dog LOOKS LIKE another dog that counts. There are over 25 AKC/CKC breeds that fit the profile in the eyes of the public.

    As I say, completely crazy. Especially since the banned purebreds here in Ontario are nowhere to be found in stats of bites, attacks or fatalities – across Canada.

    But these laws aren’t about dogs anyway. They’re about using a well crafted red herring to distract the public while civil rights are whisked away in broad daylight.

  • 2. Audie's Gramma  |  April 16, 2008 at 1:05 am

    I agree with caveat that the commercial purveyors of Doggie DNA tests have not in any way shown their accuracy.

    And I worry that the same test that can be used to “exonerate” a dog as a non-pitbull will be used by authorities to find other dogs “guilty” of being a vicious pibble.

    BSL is insane. While I cannot blame any pet owner for doing whatever he has to in order to save his dog from death at the hands of insane people in power, the idea that accurate breed ID is a way of fighting the lunacy is actually an admission of defeat.

    It’s like Obama wasting how much time and energy denying that he is a Muslim. Just forcing him to do that reinforces the notion that all Muslims are terrorists. It allows crazy bigots to frame the discourse, and distracts from the idiocy and injustice of the law in the first place.

  • 3. V. SILANO  |  April 16, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    this is Virginia from FOBAS. We donated the funding for the DNA test on Mindy. Not so much to rehome the dog, but to prove a point. Most shelters call everything with a flat coat a pit. At the shelter where I worked for years, the ACO decided to call dog aggressive dogs pits and the friendly ones AmStaffs. At the Trumbull Shelter where I am now, everything that can’t be called anything else is called a pit. My point was, which was pretty well proven by the test, is that 90% of shelter dogs are mixes. In fact, most are a mix of small and large dogs (which represents the bulk of multi-dog homes). My intent was never to cause problems for pits, but to prove that there really are so few pure bred pits and every dog (good or bad) that has a brindle, flat coat is not a pit. I think that intent got lost somewhere. I am shocked at the people who have written me to say that when a boxer is mixed with a bull terrier, you get a pit. In my world, a pit is a pit and the offspring of pits. A boxer mixed with a bull terrier is a boxer/terrier mix and not a pit.

  • 4. Caveat  |  April 16, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    I hear you, V. Silano and I get why you did it.

    I’m becoming more convinced that all of these ‘pit bulls’ are really just mongrels of quite a few generations which are reverting to the Village Dog type – as all breeds eventually would if left to their owner devices. There would be a few differences in appearance due to geography and local conditions but basically they’d all be pariahs.

    Here in Canada, the purebreds are so incredibly rare that it is mathematically impossible for all these so-called ‘pit bulls’ to be related to them.

    And yes, shelter people in their arrogance believe you can identify a mutt by the way he looks, when nothing could be further from the truth.

    Some of their ‘german shepherds’, ‘collies’ and ‘terrier mixes’ are too funny for words.

    I just doubt that these DNA tests are at all accurate for many reasons, not least of which is that there isn’t enough differentiation between breeds to be able to say it’s a combination of four or five of them to any degree of accuracy.

  • 5. Caveat  |  April 16, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Sorry “if left to their OWN devices”. I can’t type anymore.

  • 6. Tracie  |  July 13, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    My Staffie cross has just been taken by uk police and they too are saying it looks like it could have pit bull in his mix. I want to prove his innocence. His head is so much narrower than a staffie but he is brindle and short coated this seems t be enough for them to hold him. I could really do with some friendly advice. I have his paperwork but this is not of interest to them. Is there a dna test that anyone recommends?

  • 7. Michelle  |  September 22, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    I have 2 dogs. My female was sold to me as a pitbull / olde English bulldog mix. I also have a male Olde English Bulldogge. I tested both of there DNA’s. Bulldog was 100% for the male (used as QA ref.)
    The DNA results for the female are:
    up to 74% Boston Terrier, up to 19% Bulldog, Parson Russell Terrier and Scottish Terrier. I suppose the Bull and Terrier cross gives the Pitbull traits.

  • 8. Pitbull Fights  |  February 13, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Its sad that an appearance has denied a dog a caring family.

  • […] […]

  • 10. CarlisleHall  |  September 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    There are too many dogs in the world as it is, otherwise, shelters wouldn’t be euthanizing unwanted dogs left and right. When there are so many animals in need of help, why would shelter workers waste their time and efforts soliciting donations for a DNA test on a single dog when that money could be put to much better use?

  • 11. Lesie  |  April 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    After learning how DNA tests work I think they are at least semi-accurate. As for a Pitbull, an exact DNA match is impossible because they originally were created by a mix in the first place. They are identified by how high of a match they have to a staffordshire terrier, which is known to be a close cousin to the APBT.

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