When her cat died under suspicious circumstances, a Virginia woman paid $500 for DNA from a neighbor’s dog to be tested at the Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California at Davis, which has the largest database of domesticated-animal DNA in the country, reports the Associated Press. No incriminating evidence was found. “Usually, people come to us because it’s a very emotional matter,” said Beth Wictum, acting director of the lab’s forensics division. “They’ve lost a pet, and for many people, pets are a member of the family and they want to get resolution.”
More law enforcement officials have come to share an interest in applying forensic methods to cases involving animals, whether the animal is a victim, perpetrator, or even a witness. “There’s some real serious cases where animal DNA played a role in helping solve the case,” said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who has had DNA samples collected from murder suspects’ pets at crime scenes. “I believe that it will be used more and more.” Wictum’s lab handles between 150 and 200 cases a year from all over the world. Scientists process evidence from cases involving animal attacks on humans, human attacks on animals, and even human crimes against each other in which an animal may yield important clues.