As recently reported, the NJSPCA has hefty legal fees, averaging nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year, as reported by Kane In Your Corner: NJSPCA refusing to show invoices for legal fees.

But, following an OPRA request for the invoices requested by Kane In Your Corner (“Kane”), NJSPCA first refused to produce the requested documents and later stated that they did not exist-they were allegedly discarded by “the organization’s former treasurer, Frank Rizzo.”

This latest incident followed the agency’s failure to file its required IRS 990 forms for 2013, 2014, and 2015 which resulted in the termination of its non-profit status, as least temporarily.

In addition to these federal requirements, the NJSPCA is required to provide financial (and enforcement) information to the NJ Attorney General and legislature, which it apparently has not provided as required,

Interestingly, Governor-appointed NJSPCA board member David Gaier resigned from the Board, “calling the organization ‘dysfunctional’ and citing its lack of transparency,” as previously reported by Kane In Your Corner.

Gaier resigned after learning from Kane about the organization’s failure to file the IRS financial reports, several months after the fact.  Gaier’s observations about the NJSPCA are remarkably similar to those identified in the 2000 State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (“SCI”) report-Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

According to Kane, Gaier noted:

the NJSPCA ‘lacks proper public oversight and accountability,’ adding, ‘the very concept of a non-profit law enforcement agency is unworkable, even absurd, and the result is an organization mired in controversies and lawsuits.’ Gaier says he believes the NJSPCA needs to be ‘reconstituted as a proper state agency with genuine government oversight, transparency, and new leadership, or it should be dissolved.’

The SCI report found:

[d]espite its reputation for advancing innovative animal welfare and control programs, New Jersey remains mired in an archaic legislative scheme that places the enforcement of animal cruelty laws in the hands of unsupervised, volunteer groups of private citizens. The 1868 and 1873 laws that created the New Jersey and county Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arose at a time when law enforcement agencies were in their infancy and the enforcement of laws was entrusted frequently to private citizens. Today, the SPCAs represent a rudimentary system that has not kept pace with the state’s advancements in law enforcement or its interest in the welfare of animals. Against the backdrop of a highly stratified and professional law  enforcement system, it is an anomaly that the state continues to empower organizations of private citizens to carry weapons, investigate criminal and civil conduct, enforce laws, issue summonses, effect arrests and obtain and execute search warrants. The issue is no longer whether or how to fix this errant group of self-appointed, self-directed and uncontrolled entities, but whether to eliminate the archaic system entirely. The Commission concludes that the time has come to repeal the government authority vested in the SPCAs and place the function of enforcing the cruelty laws within the government’s stratified hierarchy of law enforcement. Those who are truly devoted to animal welfare may continue that effort by forming humane  organizations or participating in the numerous groups already in existence.

Currently there are several proposed bills that would provide for greater accountability of the NJSPCA to government entities.

  • A706/S1429 would require accountability of the NJSPCA and county societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals to the NJ Attorney General and county prosecutors; and
  • A707/S1427 would change the membership of, and election process for NJSPCA board of trustees.

Notably, in Bergen County the county prosecutor already requires accountability and reporting for all SPCA-related activities.  Expanding that requirement throughout the State is attainable and would enhance the role that professional law enforcement agencies have in protecting the animals throughout New Jersey.

 

 

The recent horrific attacks in Syria reminded me of the concerns following 9/11 about potential attacks on livestock and poultry.  Those concerns rose to the highest echelon in our government and others, exemplified by the first International Symposium on Agroterrorism, held in Kansas City, Missouri on May 5, 2005.

I attended that meeting and was awestruck by the opening video-a poignant memorial to the farmers and others involved in agriculture from across the country, highlighting their back-breaking work that feeds and clothes everyone in the United States, and much of the world.  I would love to see that video again-if anyone has a link, please share.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III greeted the attendees, describing the unique challenges involved in distinguishing intentional acts of agroterrorism from natural disease outbreaks:

This distinction is important. If a car bomb explodes outside of a building, we know the attack was intentional. But if a cow contracts Foot and Mouth Disease or a soybean plant exhibits rust, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the attack was intentional or occurred naturally.

Director Mueller highlighted the federal, state and local public-private efforts then recently adopted and deployed to investigate a potential threat:

Several months ago, the State Department received an anonymous tip that an unknown individual had threatened to introduce a virus to a large pig farm in Kansas. The State Department passed this information to the Secret Service, which notified one of its agents in Kansas. This agent was part of the FBI’s local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Together, we got the investigative ball rolling.

We coordinated with a local veterinarian, the USDA, and the FDA to assess the threat. Working with INS and local law enforcement, we found this man and questioned him. As it turns out, he had recently returned from South Africa, and it was possible that he could have transported a virus with him.

In the end, this investigation turned out to be a poison pen letter. The man we questioned had no intention of spreading a damaging virus. But because of our established networks, we were able to quickly assess the threat and move to prevent any attack.

In 2008, the FBI, Department of Justice and USDA published the “Criminal Handbook for Agroterrorism,” which “represent[ed] a joint effort of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division; the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations; the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; the Department of Homeland Security; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General.”

The handbook was considered important since “[a]n attack against the food or agriculture sector . . . requires a high level of cooperation . . .  to identify . . . the threat, prevent . . .the spread of the disease or further contamination of a food product, prevent . . . public panic, and apprehend . . . those responsible. Lack of mutual awareness and understanding, as well as the absence of established communication procedures, could hinder the effectiveness of joint law enforcement investigations. Due to the continued likelihood of attacks against the U.S. food and agriculture sector, the effective use of all resources during an incident will be critical to ensure an efficient and appropriate response.”

Protecting the food supply in this country remains a priority of the FBI, according to Mollie Halpern (not a relative), explaining:

One way the FBI ensures the safety of the nation’s food from farm to fork is through agroterrorism workshops. Our 56 field offices across the country host these workshops, which bring together the public and private sector—such as farmers, law enforcement, federal regulatory agencies, and academia. Supervisory Special Agent Kelly Decker says outreach, liaising, and awareness are the best defenses against agroterrorism.

USDA has continued its efforts to protect the nation’s food supply.  The Office of Inspector General at USDA published a report in March 2017, “Agroterrorism Prevention, Detection, and Response

“to evaluate if USDA’s [Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Coordination’s] OHSEC had developed and communicated effective plans and procedures to prevent, detect, and respond to agroterrorism threats.”

The OIG recommended:

Development and implementation of written processes to effectively oversea USDA’s agroterrorism prevention, detection, and response activities;

Development and implementation of a comprehensive process to track USDA’s compliance with Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-9; and

Improvement of the process used to create the Sector Specific Plan (SSP).

The recommendations were largely accepted and will hopefully be completed before they are needed.

 

I recently reconnected with colleagues at the annual meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture in Columbus, Ohio on April 6, 2017 where a special session was held, titled “Animal Care Standards: How Laws, Commitments, & Public Perception Have Changed the Landscape.”

A special shout out to the attending former and current State Veterinarians, including Dr. Glauer-State Veterinarian Ohio (ret.), and Dr. Tony Forshey-State Veterinarian Ohio.  State Veterinarians are a state animal health officials charged with protecting the health and well-being of animals in their state.  I served as the New Jersey State Veterinarian for nearly a decade.

Also attending were presenters, including: (1) Dr. Janet Helms, National Director of American Humane; (2) Chelsea Good, J.D., VP government and industry affairs, Livestock Marketing Association; (3) Candace Croney, Ph.D., Director, Center for Animal Welfare Science, Associate Professor, animal Behavior and Wellbeing, Purdue University; (4) Judge Linda Chezem, Indiana Court of Appeals (ret.) and others representing retail, private and public organizations.

One topic discussed was how governmental and private animal care standards of care benefit animals and consumers.  There is some concern that consumers, unfamiliar with the different certifying standards available, may be confused by labeling at the point of sale.  This is compounded by the fact that most consumers are unfamiliar with animal agriculture―fewer than 2% of the US population is directly involved with animal agriculture facilities that provide food and fiber to the rest of the US population and much of the rest of the world.

One of the longest standing third-party certification program, American Humane Certified™, was established by American Humane.  This nonprofit was “f]ounded in 1877 . . . [and] is committed to ensuring the safety, welfare and well-being of animals.”

As described on its website “The American Humane Certified™ program is a voluntary third party animal welfare audit program that is rapidly setting the standards for the way that food animals are raised in the U.S.

The American Humane Certified™ Animal Welfare Standards are species-specific and grounded on solid scientific research. The standards were created with input from renowned animal science experts and veterinarians and are frequently reviewed by our Scientific Advisory Committee to reflect current research, technological advances, best practices, and humane handling methods. Our Animal Welfare Standards were built upon the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, which require that an animal be healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express normal behavior, and free from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. American Humane Certified producers are audited for their compliance to the standards.”

There are numerous private and publicly available standards of care for livestock and poultry, but American Humane’s emphasis on obtainable, scientifically-sound practices and its commitment to partnering with livestock producers to provide consumers with safe, healthy, and humanely raised animals sets it apart from many others.

The challenge for livestock producers is to make sure that consumers can rely on labeling or standard certifications to insure that the animals raised are treated humanely and that the food produced is healthy and safe.

California AB485 will criminalize what has been considered lawful interstate commerce since at least 1966, when Congress first passed the Animal Welfare Act, 7. U.S.C. §2131 et seq.

“The Congress finds that animals and activities which are regulated under this chapter are either in interstate or foreign commerce or substantially affect such commerce or the free flow thereof, and that regulation of animals and activities as provided in this chapter is necessary to prevent and eliminate burdens upon such commerce and to effectively regulate such commerce, in order – (1) to insure that animals intended . . . for use as pets are provided humane care and treatment . . .”  7 U.S.C. §2131 (Congressional statement of policy).

Pet stores in California will no longer be able to purchase and sell pets from USDA licensed and exempts breeders and dealers of dogs, cats and rabbits if AB485 becomes law.  Instead, pet store would only be able to source from the highly unregulated animal shelters and rescue organizations that distribute pets from random sources, often imported from overseas, and often infected or infested with diseases or pests that unwitting consumers have to contend with and pay for.

Pet stores that have provided a historic and lawful service matching up pet-seeking owners with professionally and purposely-bred pets with the physical and behavioral characteristics perspective owners desire, would be considered criminals under the new California law, upon adoption.

Unfortunately, this is no longer a novel attempt by nonprofit animal rights organizations’ decades-long campaign to eliminate professional, purposeful dog breeding, along with animal ownership (replaced with guardianship) and a host of other animal rights’ agenda.

The question is, when will consumers realize that their choices in pet purchases have been supplanted by activists who believe that pet breeding (and the intentional breeding of any species) is immoral and should be outlawed.

The public, clamoring for the 9,000,000 dogs needed each year for pet-owners seeking new pets, will soon have their choices severely limited.

What a sad state of affairs for pets and people alike and as we have repeatedly alleged, unconstitutional.

The New York Times recently published an article addressing an issue that is close to the heart of pet owners across the country, namely, pet-custody rights in the event of a divorce or separation. The article notes that courts across the nation have treated family pets in varying fashions: some courts treating pets as personal property alone, while others have attempted to act in the best interests of the animals, awarding shared custody, visitation rights and even alimony payments to custodial pet parents.

In January of 2017, Alaska became the first state to enact “pet-custody legislation”, which explicitly allows matrimonial courts to take into consideration a pet’s well-being in issuing awards. The legislation defines an animal, as “vertebrate living creature not a human being.” The legislation also includes other protections for animals commonly enacted by states around the country including the addition of animal cruelty as an offense defined as “domestic violence.” Such classification allows a pet owner to petition a court for a protective order, and financial assistance, in the event that a member of the household commits an act of animal cruelty.

The Alaskan measure may be viewed as a step toward changing the legal status of pets from property, to something else, where pets would be granted certain legal rights and protections. Jeff Pierce, legislative counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, is quoted in the article discussing the beneficial effect that the law in Alaska has not only in reducing potential conflicts in divorces, but also in drawing attention to pet-custody and wellbeing questions in general. Pet-custody legislation of this nature has the potential to increase litigation costs in divorce proceedings. For example, experts may have to be retained in order to determine how to actually consider a pet’s well-being in issuing an award.

For more detail about Pet-Custody legislation please see “When Couples Divorce, Who Gets to Keep the Dog? (or Cat.)” by Christopher Mele, published by the New York Times on March 23, 2017.

Japanese macaques, along with 11 other primate species were first listed as threatened on October 19, 1976 by FWS.[1]  However, by special rule, 50 C.F.R. §17.40(c)(2) captive members of these species were exempted from protections under the Endangered Species Act by FWS.  Now, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has petitioned FWS to correct what they describe as the unlawful deprivation of protection under the ESA.  See Petition to Include the Captive Members of the Species of Primates Enumerated in 50 C.F.R. §17.40(c) as Protected Members of their Respective Species Under the Endangered Species Act.

PETA based its petition, at least in part, on FWS’s relisting captive chimpanzees as endangered species, along with their previously listed wild counterparts.  Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Listing All Chimpanzees as Endangered Species, 80 Fed. Reg. 34500 (June 16, 2015).  .  In 2015 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a final rule to classify all chimpanzees, both wild and captive, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Until this change, only wild chimpanzees were listed as endangered while captive chimpanzees were listed as threatened.

“We are listing all chimpanzees, whether in the wild or in captivity, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We have determined that the Act does not allow for captive chimpanzees to be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts on the basis of their captive state, including through designation as a separate distinct population segment (DPS). It is also not possible to separate out captive chimpanzees for different legal status under the Act by other approaches. Therefore, we are eliminating the separate classification of chimpanzees held in captivity and listing the entire species, wherever found, as an endangered species under the Act.”

FWS will only issue permits for studies of chimpanzees “only for scientific purposes to benefit wild chimpanzees or to enhance the propagation or survival of chimpanzees, including habitat restoration and research on chimpanzees in the wild that contributes to improved management and recovery.”

If FWS adopts this position for the species currently listed as threatened, more than 316 Japanese macaques involved in research at various biomedical research facilities would be subject to the same fate as many chimpanzees, who unfortunately died when moved to “sanctuaries” since they were not permitted to remain under the care of knowledgeable and trained experts at research facilities.  See Dr. Collins please save our chimps, by Cindy Buckmaster.

Regardless of the outcome of this petition, these animals should remain in facilities where they can be properly cared for, and, if at all possible, the research they have been involved with should be completed so that it is not a loss.

[1] One of the original 12 primates was relisted as endangered in 1990.

As recently reported by healthypaws® Pet Insurance & Foundation in Cost of Pet Care: 2016, “[v]eterinarians have a greater ability to treat and save sick animals now more than ever before.”

The AVMA offers guidance to both pet owners and veterinarians “recogniz[ing] that viable pet health insurance programs will be important to the future of the veterinary profession’s ability to continue to provide high quality and up-to-date veterinary service.”  The AVMA, while not endorsing any specific pet insurer, includes a list in its guidance to pet owners.  See Do You Need Pet Insurance?

The North American Pet Health Insurance Association, “a freestanding body comprised of reputable and experienced pet health insurance companies and pet health professionals” describes it purpose in North America is to:

  • Collectively drive growth for, and acceptance of, the pet health insurance (PHI) industry, its members, and its products through public and industry awareness initiatives, shared resources, and industry transparency
  • Be a neutral voice for the reporting and dissemination of information about the benefits of PHI, and the industry, while promoting competitive choice for consumers about how pet insurance functions as well as the spectrum of coverage options available
  • Explore and develop partnerships with other insurance, industry, animal welfare organizations and professionals who share complimentary aspects of our work and mandate
  • Provide support to individual NAPHIA member companies in educating, marketing, and disseminating information on the industry across a wide variety of audiences and markets.  See About NAPHIA.

NAPHIA currently has 13 “industry members,” and describes its members as “collectively represent[ing] more than 20 different pet insurance brands currently marketed across the US and Canada.”  See The Pet Health Insurance Industry in North America.

NAPHIA reports that ‘over 1.6 million of the 179 million pets in North America are insured by NAPHIA members.’

Many businesses have begun offering pet insurance to their employees as part of their benefit packages.  Like any other insurance plan, a careful review of the policy is essential before deciding to sign on.

Plans may include the following options: (1) Accident only plans; (2) Accident & Illness; (3) Insurance with Embedded Wellness; and (4) Endorsements.  According to NAPHIA 97% of insured pets in the U.S. “were covered either through an Accident & Illness plan or an Insurance with Embedded Wellness plan.”  See State of the Industry Report 2016 Highlights.

Since diagnostic and treatment options for pets will continue to expand, it may make sense to obtain coverage to ensure that owners are best equipped financially to provide care needed, as determined in consultation with your veterinarian-of-choice.

I previously described concerns about S3019’s impact to veterinarians.

There are additional concerns about the impact of this bill to animal shelters and NJ taxpayers.  And, it is inexplicable why S3019 exempts animal rescue organizations from provisions governing shelters since these unregulated organizations are becoming the primary way people are obtaining pets—through retail rescue channels.  See The Phenomenon called “Retail Rescue.”

Animal shelters are under increasing pressure from the no-kill movement to decrease or eliminate the number of animals they euthanize.  This creates a near impossibility for those shelters that provide for the euthanasia of pets as a service to pet owners who rely on shelters for that very purpose.  Additionally, some animals are unfortunately not suitable for adoption because of behavioral or medical disorders.  For these animals and the people who may unwittingly adopt them, euthanasia may be the best option.

Animal rescue organizations do not have to comply with any provisions that would govern shelters if S3019 becomes law.  They simply have to register with the Department of Health.  Certainly animals housed in any facility should be provided with proper care, but with the draconian and costly provisions in S3019, it is not clear why any private brick and mortar shelter would continue to exist.

Unlike “regulated animal facilities,” animal rescue organizations would not have to: (1) employ a State-certified director, (2) comply with strict feeding, housing, exercise, and medical care requirements, (3) maintain records of any sort, or (4) be subject to a civil action in Superior or municipal court brought by any person for failure to comply with this law.

Other concerns about the bill include, but are not limited to:

  1. The Department of Health would have to draft regulations regarding the recognition of cat and dog breeds by shelter staff.  However, studies have proven that “regardless of profession, visual identification of the breeds of dogs with unknown heritage is poor.”  See K.C. Croy, et al., What kind or dog is that? Accuracy of dog breed assessment by canine stakeholders.   Published by College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville.  Hopefully, DOH’s proposed regulations, if drafted, will include the deficiencies related to the visual identification of randomly-sourced pets.
  2. The cost of enforcing this bill will be significant.
    1. The law would require at least three inspections of regulated animal facilities by specially trained inspectors each year. While training is certainly a welcome and important advance, the cost would be considerable.
    2. The bill would require the Board of Veterinary Medicine, the Department of Health and Rutgers to develop certain training and certification programs that would be costly to develop and implement.
  3. The law would limit euthanasia of animals to veterinarians or a veterinary technician with specific training and certification in euthanasia. The law would require that the Board of Veterinary Medicine, in consultation with the Department of Health, establish training and certification, but it is unclear how this can proceed without requiring the licensure of veterinary technicians, something the legislature has not provided for.
  4. The law would encourage shelters to provide for “temporary” housing, even with other animals, instead of performing euthanasia.  While decreasing euthanasia is laudable, shelters should not be encouraged to violate DOH’s sanitary regulations adopted to decrease disease spread and behavioral incompatibilities that prohibit such housing.

S3019, in addition to its well-meaning intent, would have some positive effects, such as increased tracking and reporting of the movement of animals into and between regulated animal facilities.  Of course, this data should include movement through animal rescue organizations.

The provisions of S3019 that would help ensure that any adoptable animals are not unnecessarily euthanized is clearly laudable.  However, unless the State prohibits the unregulated importation of animals from other states and countries to rescues and shelters through retail rescue channels, animals that are unsuitable as pets will continue to reside in shelters and some will be euthanized.

Senator Linda R. Greenstein introduced S3019 on Feb. 27, 2017, a bill that would establish “additional requirements for operation and oversight of animal shelters, pounds, kennels operating as shelters or pounds, and veterinary holding facilities.”

The bill creates liabilities for veterinarians who provide certain critical services to municipalities.  If enacted, it is unclear why veterinarians would expose themselves to such liability.  Therefore, critical services currently provided by these veterinarians to communities could place both people and animals at unnecessary risk.

The following provisions are of greatest concern:

The bill defines “veterinary holding facilities” as “any facility owned or operated by a veterinarian, veterinary hospital, clinic, veterinary boarding facility, or similar facility that houses stray, surrendered, or otherwise impounded animals as a boarding agent or holding facility for an animal control provider, the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or any of its humane law enforcement officers or agents, a county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals or any of its humane law enforcement officers or agents, or local law enforcement.”

If an animal control officer, an agent of the NJSPCA or a country SPCA, or a professional law enforcement officer brings an animal in need of veterinary medical care to a veterinarian for emergency care, that veterinarian is required to provide such care.  See N.J.A.C. 13:44-4.7.  If part of that care requires short or long-term housing for that animal, the veterinarian could be defined as a “veterinary holding facility” which then qualifies that facility as an “animal holding facility.”  S3019 would require each animal holding facility, including a veterinary holding facility to:

  1. provide specific vaccinations to each animal in the facility;*
  2. apply for a pound license from the municipality in which it operates;
  3. employ a properly trained and certified director of the facility; and
  4. establish specific hours of operation during which time they must be open to the public.

This bill would expose veterinarians to liability for serving their communities by providing care to abandoned, injured, and rescued animals they treat on an emergent basis.  Many of these provisions are not appropriate and are unnecessary for veterinary facilities which are governed by statutes and regulations enforced by the State Board of Veterinary Medicine Examiners which “supervise[s] the practice of veterinary medicine, surgery and dentistry; ensure[s] that veterinary medicine is performed in a manner consistent with acceptable medical and ethical standards; and adjudicate[s] consumer complaints against licensees.”

These provisions of S3019, while well-meaning, should be amended.

*While vaccination generally should be required in animal facilities, it is unwise to require specific vaccines in statutes or regulations, since recommendations change over time, as informed by advances in veterinary medicine.  Instead, laws should incorporate by reference recommendations from appropriate veterinary associations such as the American Animal Hospital Association.

Genetic testing in human and animal medicine has been used for some time, and shows great promise, when used judiciously.  For example, genotyping the avian influenza virus and other pathogens has helped animal and human health officials understand the spread of pathogens so that measures can be implemented to prevent or mitigate such spread.

As reported by Greg Cima, “[f]aster, cheaper genome sequencing is helping public health researchers identify the risks of drug resistance and medical treatment failure . . . The sequences also may help federal investigators find outbreak sources, by geographic location and species, as well as guide vaccine and antimicrobial development.”  Finding risks in a flood of genetic data, JAVMAnews Issues, Aug. 1, 2016. .

According to Dr. Jerold Bell, a small animal practitioner and adjunct professor at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, “[c]ompanies are using diagnostics to determine what breeds exist in a mixed-breed dog . . . Some companies take it one step further and also tests for genes controlling body conformation and known disease-causing mutations.”  M.S, Filippo, Genetic testing for pets quickly catching up to its human counterpart, AVMA press release, 8/8/2016.

Diagnostic test results are rarely dispositive, and the reliability of the results can be influenced by many factors, including, but not limited to: sample collection; quality control and quality assurance of test reagents; method and proficiency of testing; and interpretation of test results.  Even tests performed by USDA-APHIS-approved laboratories that are part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, using reference materials and proficiency tests produced at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory that are accredited to international standards, must be interpreted by knowledgeable clinicians.

As a large animal veterinarian, when I received laboratory results from state or private laboratories that did not seem consistent with my patient’s clinical signs, I would consult with the laboratory director and other officials to discuss those inconsistencies.  Sometimes, additional testing was warranted.  In some cases, the final results were never definitive.

As the Director, Division of Animal Health, New Jersey Department of Agriculture I was responsible for the oversight of the only animal health diagnostic laboratory in the State, and for interpreting laboratory results related to regulated and reportable diseases.  That analysis started with the laboratory test results, and where the results appeared inconsistent with the clinical signs of the tested animal, an in depth review of the testing process from sample collection to results ensued.

Based on this extensive background and understanding of testing, I am concerned about the inappropriate use of certain genetic tests to refute the pedigree registration status of purebred dogs.  As several courts have held, genetic testing is currently not dispositive of pedigree registration status.  See, e.g., Sandra Shines v. Furry Babies Stratford Square, Inc., No. 13-3592, slip op. at 9 (Ill. 18th Jud. Cir. Jan. 22, 2014) (finding DNA test results unreliable to support plaintiff’s claim that the cocker spaniel in dispute was a mixed breed).

Mars Veterinary, a business unit of Mars Petcare that sells a DNA genetic test called Wisdom Panel® warns that the test is not “intended to be used in any judicial proceedings” and further suggests that “[i]f questions arise as to a purebred dog’s pedigree and breed ancestry, parentage testing through the AKC is the appropriate course of action. For this evaluation, the documented sire and/or dam are examined to ensure they were the genetic contributors to the dog in question. If they are confirmed as the parents, their pedigree (and breed) is conferred onto the puppy.”  See Wisdom Panel® Terms and Conditions.

The purebred status of dogs is based on documentation confirming each dog’s lineage, required by the relevant breed canine breed registries—not the results of DNA testing.  Similarly, ancestry DNA testing in humans could not be used to nullify the citizen status of a third-generation U.S. citizen, no matter what their genetic makeup reveals.

The proper use of genetic testing is reflected in AVMA’s new policy on “Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals” which “supports research in genetic and inherited disorders to better educate the profession and breeders on identifying and minimizing inherited disorders in companion animal breeding programs.”  K. Burns, AVMA passes policy on responsible pet breeding, JAVMAnews, Feb. 15, 2017.

Undoubtedly, genetic testing will be used as a increasingly important tool for pathogen tracking, disease control purposes, to help guide responsible dog breeders and to help identify the genetic make-up of mixed breed dogs, with unknown pedigree.