Ann and I are back to blogging now, but we're also shifting back into more forensics-related posts as we're moving toward the release of LAMENT THE COMMON BONES, book five in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries. Today, we're looking at a topic that spans our two series as we examine the forensic technique which recently saved the life of a service K-9.
DNA profiling has been used in law enforcement, medical examiners, and archeologists for humans for decades. DNA is used for profiling both victims and suspects in crimes, for identifying the dead after mass disasters, and tracing family lineages through mitochondrial DNA. But the same techniques can be used for other species.
Recently a case came to light of a Belgian Malinois service dog named Jeb who was sentence to be destroyed after he was convicted of killing a neighbour’s dog, Vlad. He was not actually witnessed killing the 16-pound Pomeranian, but he was found by the late dog’s owner standing over the body of the dead dog. While not definitive, it certainly didn’t look good for Jeb. He was taken into custody by Animal Control and a judge was appointed to hear the case. After hearing testimony, including how the neighbour was scared by the large dog because ‘he always barked’, the judge made the reluctant decision to designate Jeb as a ‘dangerous animal’. As a result, he had no choice but to call for the dog’s death.
However the owners, Penny and Kenneth Job, never believed for a moment that their dog was capable of such a violent act. They had adopted Jeb after he’d been rescued as an abandoned pup in Detroit by their daughter, Kandie Morrison. Morrison worked for a local rescue group, but quickly recognized that the young Malinois would make an excellent service dog for her father, as United State Air Force veteran with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a neurodegenerative disease. With the help of a local veterinarian, Jeb was trained into a gentle, dependable service dog to help support Ken Job and to be there for him if he falls.
The accusation of Jeb being the cause of Vlad’s death didn’t make sense to the Jobs. This simply wasn’t the dog they knew and who lived with three dogs and seven cats in complete peace. Rather than simply taking the heartbreaking news at face value, they took matters into their own hands. While they had previously believed Vlad had been cremated following the investigation, they discovered during the course of the trial that his body was instead frozen. They had argued during the trial that a stray dog had been seen in the area around the time of the killing, and the area was populated with wild foxes, but now they had a chance to scientifically prove Jeb’s innocence. They swabbed the inside of his cheek and arranged for samples to be taken from Vlad’s wounds for comparison at the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
The Jobs were thrilled when the results came back vindicating their dog. Yes, Vlad has been killed by a dog, but not by Jeb. Shortly after, Jeb was released and returned to his loving family and crucially important life of service. DNA had proven his innocence, exonerating him just as it can exonerate innocent human convicts.
DNA analysis is not a regular part of canine cases, even those that call for the destruction of an animal. But the $460 spent by the Jobs definitely decided the case and saved the life of their beloved pet and helpmate. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about animal cases in the same light—when a life hangs in the balance, isn’t it worth ensuring that justice is being done? $460 doesn’t seem like that high a price to pay to avoid an innocent paying for a crime he didn’t commit.
Photo credit: CNN