DNA testing in Salina saves pet
By DAVID CLOUSTON - Salina Journal
SALINA, Kan. -- Salina animal control officers knew the dog they saw looked like a pit bull.
It didn't matter that the dog in question, Angie Cartwright's family pet, Lucey, had never bitten anyone, or had never acted out aggressively.
When Cartwright's brother's dog, which she was pet sitting, got loose from her yard someone called animal control. The officers picked up the dog and collared Lucey in the process.
The officers explained that they were taking Lucey to a veterinarian for a breed check - a professional opinion to determine Lucey's breed. Since 2005, Salina has had a ban on owning unregistered pit bulls and mixed breeds that are predominantly pit bull.
Today, Lucey is back home, and Cartwright credits a genetic test kit that helps pet owners identify the heritage of their mixed-breed dogs. The test found a minor amount of Lucey's DNA came from Staffordshire Bull Terrier genes - a little more than 12 percent, not close to a predominant percentage.
"Maybe this can save someone's animal, hopefully," Cartwright said.
Without the test results, Cartwright and her family would have been faced with finding Lucey a home outside of Salina, or leaving her at the animal shelter to be either adopted out to someone not from here or destroyed.
There are at least three retail genetic tests currently on the market for dogs. One of those is the Wisdom Panel MX mixed breed analysis, which is offered by a local vet clinic, Town & Country Animal Hospital, 1001 Schippel.
Wisdom Panel is the only one that uses a blood test; the other two use cheek swabs for samples of DNA.
Each retail canine test now on the market has a different way of breaking down the breeds of dogs. The Canine Heritage Breed Test classifies the breeds as primary, secondary and in the mix, meaning the amount or percent of the dog that is a specific breed.
BioPet Vet Lab's DNA Breed Identification test has levels one through five, breaking down each level as a certain percentage.
Wisdom Panel classifies breed percentages as significant, intermediate and minor. The company claims to be able to, at present, detect 157 different AKC breeds.
Cartwright asked the animal control officers who were taking Lucey away if she could check with her own vet, Karen Hale Young, owner of Town & Country, for a second opinion. She didn't know at the time that the clinic had the genetic test available.
Town & Country charges $168 for the service.
"I was actually pretty desperate and I watch a lot of medical shows," Cartwright said. "I said, 'Do you guys do DNA testing on dogs?' It was actually just a grasp (at a solution). We didn't want her to go, we didn't want her to be put to sleep. I was angry and upset, and I was just trying to find a different solution."
The family had acquired Lucey as a puppy just a couple of months earlier from a family in Hutchinson who couldn't care for her anymore.
Young said she thought that, given the shape of Lucey's head and ears, particularly, Lucey was predominantly pit bull.
"She said, 'Prove me wrong - please prove me wrong.'" Cartwright said. "I said, 'I hope I do.' "
The test showed that Lucey had no more than 12.5 percent each of bull terrier DNA, boxer, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The largest percentage of DNA, 25 percent, was Bernese Mountain Dog.
"Berners," as they are known, are a Swiss breed originally bred as farm dogs and companion animals, used for driving cattle.
The American Kennel Club defines pit bulls as American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers or any mix of those breeds.
All of the genetic testing companies, in their literature, urge that their products not be used to enforce breed bans. None have reached the point of being challenged in court.
Still, Rose Base, director of the Salina Animal Shelter, accepts the test results.
"It's provided through a veterinary clinic. And if they're that strongly supporting something like that, we feel it must be a quality product," Base said.
Salina veterinarian David Atherton offers the Wisdom Panel test to his customers curious about their dog's characteristics. He said he thinks the test has validity.
"If I was going to have a beloved dog taken away, I would demand it," he said.
In checking with other Salina veterinary clinics, none said they offer genetic mixed-breed dog testing.
Young started offering the test to her customers after trying it out on one of her own dogs. Her dog was labeled a labradoodle when she got him - a mixture of poodle and Labrador Retriever. Yet the DNA test showed significant DNA of two other breeds - Newfoundland and brussels griffon.
Although the companies include the disclaimer against using the test to enforce breed laws, Young thinks that issue will surface in a court of law somewhere, eventually.
"Why not? You're using it in every other (circumstance) to determine what personality or medical characteristics this dog has," she said.
She also sees the potential for cases where a pet owner might demand a test, at the prosecution's expense, to contest a finding that his or her dog is a pit bull.
"This is so much in its infancy, no one knows where it's going or what we're going to do," Young said.