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DNA Testing Saves a Dog from Death Row
A routine human test provides a pup’s innocence.

A young Belgian Malinois from Detroit already had an incredible story when he went from homeless pup to service dog. But just months after his rescue, a misunderstanding threatened his new life. It would take a test usually reserved for humans to prove his innocence.

Jeb was barely a year old when he was found chained inside a shed last January. His owner had passed away and no one else in the family wanted him. When Jeb was taken in by a local dog rescue, volunteer Kandie Morrison thought he’d make the perfect service dog for her father, Kenneth Job.

Kenneth, a 79-year old Air Force veteran struggling with a neurodegenerative disease, took an instant liking to Jeb. So neighbor and veterinarian Dr. Karen Pidick trained Jeb to help Kenneth stay steady and assist in helping him get up if he fell.

Kenneth and Jeb came to rely on each other, but eight months later everything changed in an instant.

One August morning, the Jobs’ neighbor of 30 years, Christopher Sawa, looked out his kitchen window and saw Jeb standing over the lifeless body of his Pomeranian, Vlad. Christopher ran outside and tried to give Vlad mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was too late. With 90-pound Jeb towering over 14-pound Sawa, you can see why Christopher might blame Kenneth’s dog.

Animal control took Jeb into custody and the case went to trial.

The Jobs were horrified. Jeb lived peacefully with their three other dogs, seven cats, and a coopful of chickens. "We've never had any children," Kenneth would later testify. "The dog was like a child to us."

Kenneth had been outside with his dogs that morning when all four pups ran off toward a favorite swimming hole.

Despite the fact there was a lack of physical evidence linking Jeb to Vlad’s death, and there were reports of other possible culprits, the judge ruled that Jeb met the legal definition of a dangerous animal. Jeb would have to be euthanized.

The Jobs were desperate and came up with the idea to have testing done to compare the DNA in Vlad’s wound with Jeb’s DNA. Samples were taken and sent to the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida. They determined that the DNA did not match, proving Jeb wasn’t the dog that killed Vlad.

After the test, Jeb was allowed to go home, but nine weeks in animal control turned him in a different dog. Jeb lost 15 pounds and his social skills. He was also afraid to go outside.

Nonetheless, the family was relieved to have Jeb back home. However, the Jobs wondered why they had to come up with the idea of DNA analysis. Why didn’t the court do it before sentencing Jeb to death?

The test was under $500, but canine cases are handled differently in our judicial system.

"In a criminal prosecution, where you're putting a person in jail, we have the highest level of protection," explains law professor David Favre. "Dogs have no rights. They're property.”

I don’t think courts will make DNA analysis automatic anytime soon, but the Jobs hope their story will make more people aware that this tool can save lives.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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