Pet Forensics

Animal DNA Testing Enters the Courtroom

Dr. Halverson has assisted numerous criminal cases in which traces of blood, saliva, or hair from animals provided vital clues for linking victims or locations to a suspect.

People live in intimate proximity to companion animals, and as most of us know, they shed hair everywhere – on carpets and rugs, furniture, clothing, and in cars. Advances in human forensic testing influenced animal DNA testing methods, and can now accurately identify individual dogs, cats, and other domestic animals with great precision.  DNA testing for parentage were also being adopted by national dog registries worldwide.

Note: In the 1990s, Dr. Halverson created the DNA test for determining parentage adopted by the American Kennel Club.

First Trial Cases

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police engaged Dr. Halverson to assist their forensic lab on a cold case involving blood stains from a dog found on a suspect’s clothing.  Not long afterwards, she was contacted to work on the first criminal trial in the United States to admit animal DNA in evidence. She continued to perform DNA analysis for crime scene work and provided expert witness on the stand for numerous trials.

More Innovations in DNA Testing

The nuclear DNA is in the center. The blue, bean-like structures are mitochondria.

As she pursued forensic DNA analysis, she also developed new ways of identifying dogs and cats. It was apparent that the usual crime scene investigation involved animal hair, whereas cases involving blood or saliva were rare.

There is a type of DNA, found in the mitochondria of our cells, that is abundant and often present when the DNA from chromosomes is gone. This mitochondrial DNA can be purified from hair shafts and provides a less precise, but still useful,  means of identifying a dog or cat. Not as powerful as the chromosomal DNA (also called  “nuclear DNA” – because it comes from the cell nucleus), mitochondrial DNA matches have been significant  evidence in some cases.

Sherlock’s Case Files ~ by Dr. Halverson DVM

For summaries of some of her cases, click here.