Shamong Township introduced Ordinance 2018-11, governing dog ownership, on October 2, 2018, which passed by the Township Committee on a first reading of the ordinance.  A public hearing is scheduled on November 7, 2018.

The Ordinance would require annual registration and inspection of “[a]ny property owner, occupant or tenant in Shamong Township having fifteen (15) or more adult dogs, defined as six months old or older, in their possession, licensed in their name, or housed on their property.”

The Ordinance would limit the number of dogs to “no more than a total of twenty-five (25) shall be kept, maintained or harbored at one time, for any length of time, in any residential housing unit or on its grounds or in any business establishment or on its grounds.”

Any dog owners and businesses, including shelters, pet stores, and animal rescue organizations with 15 or more dogs must also comply with the following provisions of the State regulation governing animal facility operations, N.J.A.C. 8:23A:  Section 1.2 (Compliance), Section 1.3 (Facilities-general), Section 1.4 (Facilities-indoor), Section 1.5 (Facilities-outdoor), Section 1.6 (Primary enclosures), 1.7 (Feeding and watering), Section 1.8 (Sanitation), Section 1.9 (Disease control), Section 1.10 (Holding and receiving of animals), Section 1.11 (Euthanasia), Section 1.12 (Transportation), and Section 1.13 (Records and administration).

Pet stores, shelters and kennels are already required to comply with these provisions, but animal rescue organizations and individual dog owners are not.  Doggy-day care operations that may believe they are are not “kennels” would also have to comply if housing more than 15 dogs.  Some of those provisions that could be difficult for individuals to comply with include:

Facilities not receiving water from a municipal water supply system shall test their water annually.  Test results must be sent to the local health department and kept on file.

Interior building surfaces of indoor housing facilities shall be constructed and maintained so that the are impervious to moisture and may be readily cleaned.  ‘“Impervious surface’ means a surface that does not permit the absorption of fluids.  Such surfaces are those that can be thoroughly and repeatedly cleaned and disinfected, which will not retain odors, and from which fluids bead up and run off or can be removed without being absorbed into the surface material.”  This grossly limits the type of indoor housing that can be provided.

A separate isolation room is required to house dogs showing signs of contagious illness.

In facilities constructed or renovated after January 17, 1995, the isolation area shall be a separate room (with ceiling to floor walls and door) from the holding area of the general animal population, not to be used for any purposes other than the segregation of animals with signs of communicable disease.  N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.9(g).

In facilities constructed or renovated after January 17, 1995, the isolation area shall have an exhaust fan or system which creates air movement from the isolation area to an area outside the premises of the facility.  N.J.A.C. 8:23A-1.9(h).

Grid-type flooring permitted under the State regulations would be prohibited by the Ordinance.

Each facility shall have a supervising veterinarian who shall annually sign and date a form provided the the State indicating that the facility has a program of disease control and health care.

Each facility and property owner shall keep and maintain records on the property for 12 months after the date an animal is euthanized or removed from the establishment and must include the following information:

Date each animal was received;

Description of each animal;

License number of each animal;

Breed, age and sex of each animal;

Name and address of person from whom the animal was acquire;

Date and method used to euthanize the animal; and

Name and address of person to whom the animal was sold or otherwise transferred.

The Ordinance would also require “[e]ach registrant . . . [to] keep a record of the veterinarian treatments performed on each dog for at least three years.”

The Ordinance requires medications provided to dogs “to prevent infestation by intestinal parasites.”  This is an unobtainable requirement.  Instead, the Ordinance should require medication to minimize and treat infestation by intestinal parasites.

Anyone in the State or beyond concerned about these provisions should attend and testify at the hearing on November 7, 2018 in Shamong Township.  As we have seen, laws governing animals and related businesses are often introduced in multiple jurisdictions once successfully adopted.

Stuart Goldman, the former chief humane law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals, filed a qui tam complaint against Critter Control of New Jersey, Kewin, Inc. d/b/a Critter Control of New Jersey, Robert McDonough and Evan Windholz (Critter Control defendants), “seeking ‘damages and civil penalties’ for violations of N.J.S.A. 4:22–26 for ‘animal cruelty, animal abuse, negligence, recklessness, [and] negligent infliction of emotional distress, 454 N.J.Super. 418, 421 (N.J.A.D. 2018).  Goldman alleged that the Critter Control defendants violated the animal cruelty statute when they removed a raccoon from a client’s roof and did not see baby raccoons that were allegedly present and “had gone without sustenance for a week.”

The court granted the Critter Control defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, with prejudice, because the animal cruelty statute does not authorize private citizens to sue, and Plaintiff Goldman therefore lacked standing.  The court denied Goldman’s motion for reconsideration and he thereafter appealed.  The appeal was consolidated with another appeal based on a case Goldman filed against Carlstrom, Hill, and Simplicity Farms alleging the farm mistreated horses violating the state animal cruelty statute.  The court granted defendants’ unopposed motion to dismiss which was later vacated when Goldman filed a motion for reconsideration, before finally dismissing the case for lack of standing.

Plaintiff-Appellant argues that his qui tam lawsuits were authorized by N.J.S.A. 4:22-26 which states ‘“any person in the name of the New Jersey [SPCA]’ or county SPCA can sue for civil penalties.”  Goldman v. Critter Control of New Jersey, 454 N.J. Super. at 425.

The appellate court carefully reviewed the history of the statute and other relevant statutes governing penalties and fines, including the Penalty Enforcement Law (PEL), N.J.S.A. 2A:58-10, to determine whether this clause Goldman relied upon provides legal standing for his qui tam-styled actions..

The Court held:

The PCAA authorized enforcement of the animal cruelty laws by the New Jersey or county SPCAs; authorized the SPCA to promulgate uniform bylaws and guidelines; required humane officers to be trained in these “mandatory uniform standards, guidelines and procedures”; authorized the imposition of civil penalties; dedicated all of the penalties to the SPCAs; allowed collection of the penalties pursuant a law that allows administrative agencies to collect penalties; and long ago, removed language referencing qui tam actions or informers. Given the many amendments of this legislation, we decline to interpret the PCAA as authorizing qui tam lawsuits.  Goldman v. Critter Control of New Jersey, 454 N.J. Super. at 429.

Notably, although the Court rightfully analyzed the appeal in light of the law existing at the time the civil actions were filed, the noted the most recent amendments to the animal cruelty statute which “shift[s] enforcement responsibilities to the county prosecutor task forces and militate against plaintiff’s contention that the law allows for private enforcement actions.”  Id. at 431.

This opinion provides an interesting analysis of the history of the penalty and enforcement provisions of State’s animal cruelty statute.

The Division of Animal Health has proposed amendments to the regulation governing laboratory services provided by the State Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory, available on its website as published in the New Jersey Register on September 4, 2018 (50 N.J.R. 1919).

The amendments would increase fees charged for animal disease diagnostic and testing services offered in the state of the art laboratory which replaced the long outdated facility previously located on the second floor in downtown Trenton.  The prior location made it impossible to perform certain diagnostic testing, such as necropsies on large animals.

The regulation would add 30 new tests and provide for molecular testing and referring services to other laboratories when required.  Some of the new tests pertain to bacterial isolation and identification and animals that are not domestic livestock.

Others would “facilitate the most economic and accurate diagnosis of clinical conditions by grouping tests. If done individually, the total cost to perform these tests would be more. Amendments are proposed in equine neurologic tests due to changes in the disease (West Nile, which is now endemic), increased knowledge of epidemiology (Western equine encephalitis), and unavailability of certain reagents for HI and IgG tests.”

The Division has proposed amendments to N.J.A.C. 2:10-2 to codify “the longstanding policy of not returning animal remains of any kinds due to the risks of disease transmission to the general community.”  New section 2:10-2.2 “would allow for submitters or animal owners to direct remains be disposed of to a licensed crematorium upon written request prior to the start of a necropsy.”

One of the most important amendments involves the protection of test results and related information (e.g., animal owner, animal identification, animal location) which reasonably protects the privacy of animal owners.  This longstanding policy should be codified.  The Division has identified a number of reasons to support this amendment, including: (1) laboratory reports are generally applicable only to the submitter; (2) reports include details of a private nature; (3) laboratory services are provided to livestock and other animal owners, veterinarians, and other submitters who pay for those services, which should remain private: (4) veterinary clients expect their information to remain private; (5) veterinarians are required to maintain the confidentiality of veterinary records  with few exceptions; (6) animal owners and veterinarians could circumvent disclosure of private information by using private or out of state laboratories which would decrease the State’s ability to identify and control disease; and (7) if tests are performed in other laboratories, interstate or international animal movement restrictions could be imposed without review by State animal health officials that might not be necessary or reasonable.

Comments to the proposed amendments are accepted until November 3, 2018.

Fees collected by the Division are not swept into the State coffers, but are instead “held separate and apart from all other funds of the State in a non-lapsing fund for annual appropriation to assure the provision of continuous support for the needed laboratory services.”

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA), through its Division of Animal Health (DAH), operates the New Jersey Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory (AHDL).

The AHDL provides diagnostic testing services to support disease control programs, health management, and productivity of livestock, equine, poultry, fish, and wildlife. The AHDL serves New Jersey’s companion animal owners by providing fast, accurate, convenient, and cost effective services to diagnose diseases in dogs, cats, exotics, and other pets. The AHDL serves as an expert veterinary diagnostic resource to state agencies, federal agencies, veterinarians, clinics, animal organizations, and universities.

Dr. Amar Patil, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVM is the Laboratory Director and the Assistant Director Division of Animal Health.

Dr. Manoel Tamassia, DVM, MS, PhD Dipl. Is the current Division Director and State Veterinarian, a position I previously held for nearly a decade.

The New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee unanimously voted to release the Homes for Animal Heroes Act (S2826) from committee.  The bill would requires institutions of higher education to offer cats and dogs for adoption when they are no longer needed for education, research or other scientific purposes.  During the hearing on September 13, 2018 the following nonprofit associations or individuals submitted slips or testified:

Best Friends Animal Society; Merck; Tom Leach and Cindy Buckmaster, Ph.D., and Karen Froberg, VMD from the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research; and the National Animal Interest Alliance.

Homes for Animal Heroes, created by Cindy Buckmaster, Ph.D., and an initiative of National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA),

is a product of the research community’s desire to find loving homes for their animals, as well as the need to educate the public on the real facts about our animal heroes, how they are cared for, and how they improve human and animal lives.

As stated on its website 

Homes for Animal Heroes (HAH) is a national program dedicated to rehoming retired research animals, mainly dogs, and sharing the facts about the critical role animals in research play in curing disease. HAH is building a network of dog experts that can effectively work with research institutions to rehome retired research dogs in every state across the country, one location at a time. Our goal is to permanently rehome these animal heroes into loving homes through a comprehensive foster-based program.

The program builds in successful outcomes by temporarily housing dogs with caregivers, trained “to acclimate former study” dogs to a home environment.  Potential adopters are also screened and interviewed for lifelong compatibility.

The program and the bill, do not require research facilities to place dogs with animal rescue organizations, many of which have not been trained to handle these animals, and most are nearly entirely unregulated.  Instead, the institutions and the staff who have worked closely with these dogs and cats, are able to place them in homes where they will have the best chance of remaining for the rest of their lives.

As part of its Five-Year Plan for Supporting Antimicrobial Stewardship in Veterinary Settings—just released—FDA announced that it plans to shift from “educating” food animal veterinarians and producers about the 2016 Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) to “ensuring compliance with the . . . regulation to further ensure the safety of animal and human health.”  In other words, producers, veterinarians, and VFD medicated feed distributors (e.g., feed mills, retailers) should expect enhanced enforcement by FDA inspectors.

Those regulated should keep in mind that FDA inspectors will “examine VFD orders, requirements for the parties involved, and recordkeeping” during inspections.

FDA’s overall plans include three broad-based goals:

  1. Align antimicrobial drug product use with the principles of antimicrobial stewardship;

  2. Foster stewardship of antimicrobials in veterinary settings; and

  3. Enhance monitoring of antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial drug use in animals.

While described as a One Health initiative, FDA’s plans favor the preservation of medically important antibiotics for humans over animals, particularly food animals.  Also, while acknowledging that it does not regulate either veterinary medicine or farming activities, FDA has set forth plans that appear to attempt to extend their regulatory reach, through proposed expansion of inspection and testing of animals, including food animals, companion animals, animal feed, farm-raised seafood and retail meat.

FDA also plans on bringing the 5% of antimicrobials still available over the counter under veterinary oversight, including, for example intramammary treatment to prevent or treat mastitis.  Not only will this increase costs to producers (which will be passed along to consumers), but according to the AVMA, many farmers and ranchers in rural communities do not have access to adequate veterinary care because of veterinary shortages “in more than 180 rural communities across the country.”

Certainly, the issue of antimicrobial resistance is important.  However, the emphasis by some government officials and legislators too often focuses on limiting use of antibiotics important to maintain the health of animals.  And the collection and reporting of antibiotic use and test results are used by activists to eliminate the use of animals for food completely.

Testing of some food products, albeit for other purposes, resulted in the conviction of the owners and operators of the Decoster Egg Farms for “introducing eggs into interstate commerce that had been adulterated with Salmonella enteritidis,” even though the government admitted that it had not identified any personnel, including the defendants who knew that the eggs were contaminated.  United States v. Decoster, 828 F.3d 626 (8th Cir. 2016) (Beam, J., dissenting).

Keep in mind that preventing Salmonella enteriditis was the basis for the adoption of enlarged cage requirements for hens in California despite evidence that such measures do not decrease the prevalence of the bacteria.  Furthermore, California and Massachusetts have imposed their regulations on producers in other states—an impermissible extraterritorial regulation in violation of dormant commerce clause, which has been challenged.  State of Missouri, et al. v. State of California, No. 22O148 (2017); State of Indiana, et al. v. Commonwealth of Mass., No. 22O149 (201

On August 20, 2018, Governor Murphy issued Executive Order No. 34  grossly limiting the hunting of black bears in the State.

“The Commissioner shall take all necessary and appropriate actions within the Commissioner’s authority to protect black bears on lands controlled by the State of New Jersey, including deciding whether to close said lands to the hunting of black bears pursuant to the Commissioner’s authority at N.J.S.A. 13:1B-5 et seq., as clarified and confirmed in Safari Club International v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 373 N.J. Super. 515 (App. Div. 2004).”

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), within the Department of Environmental Protection, issued a “Status Report On the Implementation of the 2015 Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy,” dated January 4, 2018.   The report describes the evolution of bear management control in New Jersey, set forth in the “Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy (CBBMP),” last updated in 2015.

DFW “manages black bears according to its . . . CBBMP to ensure the continued survival of black bears in New Jersey,” based on research conducted by the agency since 1980.

According to DFW, the following significant accomplishments obtained since the 2015 CBBMP was approved include:

  • DFW presented educational programs to nearly 15,000 people in 19 counties.

  • DFW partnered with “Untamed Science” to produce more than 200 copies of the Understanding Black Bears educational kits to schools.

  • DFW partnered with Untamed Science to convert the Understanding Black Bears curriculum to a web-based portal, which K-8 teachers and students can use free of charge.

  • DFW updated content on the NJDFW website.

  • DFW has updated, produced, and distributed 1,000 “Living in Bear Country” DVDs, 150,000 Know the Bear Facts brochures (40,000 in Spanish), 1,000 educational magnets, and 6,500 Bear Safety Signs for State Park trailheads.

  • DFW increased its presence on social media, specifically Facebook, to increase public awareness about bears.

  • DFW biologists captured 436 bears for research tagging and biological sampling, 77% of which were not previously tagged.

  • DFW worked on 96 bears in winter dens for ongoing fecundity measurements.

  • DFW biologists handled 2 adult female bears with a 6-cub litters.

  • DFW continues to provide samples to East Stroudsburg University for DNA analysis and research on black bear diseases and parasites.

  • DFW cooperated with University of WV and University of Utah on two research studies involving bear-human interaction.

  • DFW is collaborating with Stockton University on a research review of bear birth control efficacy.

  • DFW and Colorado State University are initiating research on bear-human conflicts.

  • DFW cooperated with PA and WV and West Virginia University on a habitat use study in the urban-wild land interface.

Despite these accomplishments, Governor Murphy, through his executive order will “limit the use of State lands for the black bear hunt” based, in part, on purported “considerable public outcry against a hunt.”  If the new test for regulation of animal issues is “public outcry” all animal-related industries should be concerned.

It appears that such limitations would not affect Special Farmer Black Bear Permits, even if the farm is a preserved farm pursuant to the State’s farmland preservation laws, since the holding of the lawsuit cited in the executive order, Safari Club International v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 373 N.J. Super. 515 (App. Div. 2004), only permitted the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection to limit hunting on lands owned or controlled by the Department of Environmental Protection, not the State of New Jersey.

The protection of livestock from bears remains a concern of farmers in the State.  I personally observed the lethal results of bear attacks on my patients when I was practicing as a large animal veterinarian and to horses when I served as the State Veterinarian.

Recently the Washington Post described the life and death of a 100 year old Aldabra tortoise at the National Zoo who had spent nearly a lifetime as an ambassador for tortoises, teaching visitors from around the world about this amazing species.  This reminded me of how impactful zoological gardens are to their visitors, providing education about the importance of the preservation of species, often facilitated by these institutions.

Sitatunga

I was an extern at the National Zoo while I was a senior in veterinary school, after completing an externship at the Toronto Zoo and working with veterinarians at the San Diego Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo and Royal Rotterdam Zoo.  One of the biggest differences between zoo animal medicine and traditional veterinary practice is the inability to examine and perform routine procedures on many zoo animals without sedating or anesthetizing them.

Sedation of Giant panda

However, there are some exceptions, depicted here:

Koala
Chute to examine bison
Bison
Chute to treat Fritz’ sarcoma
Treating Galapagos tortoise

Eventually, I decided to pursue a career in large animal ambulatory medicine, where I practiced theriogenology (reproduction), a field of veterinary medicine I loved.

Drawing by Purdue classmate Betsy Miller, DVM

As a result of my experience with multiple species, I was able to work with owners of all types of animals, including llama, deer, pot belly pigs, and emu in addition to traditional livestock species.  I consulted for a few zoological parks and have retained my interest in zoo and exotic animals.

As an attorney, I represent animal owners, veterinarians, all types of animal related businesses (e.g., pharmaceutical companies, farmers, breeders, zoos, aquaria, pet stores), universities, trade associations, processing plants and food-related businesses.  These businesses are often the targets of animal activists who want to eliminate animal ownership entirely.

As Stacey Ludlum, the Director of Zoo and Aquarium Planning and Design at PGAV Destinations in St. Louis, wrote:

In conversations with zoos and aquariums in recent years, it seems the (excuse me for this) elephant in the room has been the focused, laser-like attention on our community from anti-marine and zoological park activists. (See The power of partnership: could animal rights organisations and zoos/aquariums join forces).

Ms. Ludlum advocated for a partnership between animal rights organizations and those involved with zoos and aquaria to “unite over a common cause: working to protect the remaining non-captive animal populations from extinction,” certainly a laudable goal.  However, for those people and organizations who believe animals should never be owned by humans, the gap is simply too broad to bridge such a partnership.

I believe that people can continue to own, breed, raise, and sell animals, as companion animals, food-producing animals, service animals, in biomedical research, zoos and aquaria, as long as the animals are treated humanely.  We may argue about what standards of care are humane, but the standards should be based on objective, validated scientific research.  And we should expect those standards to change and evolve as animal scientists continue to study animal welfare.  See, i.e., Purdue’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, currently directed by Candace Croney, PhD.

A virulent form of Newcastle disease (vND), “a contagious and fatal viral disease affecting the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds and poultry,” as described on USDA’s Virulent Newcastle Disease webpage has been confirmed in 93 cases in backyard exhibition chickens and turkeys by USDA since May 18, 2018.

The last outbreak of vND started in 2002 infecting 22 commercial premises and hundreds of backyard flocks, at a cost of over $180 million dollars to eradicate the outbreak, officially ending on March 26, 2003.  That outbreak, which started in California spread to four other states, but the majority of affected premises were in California.

Since May of this year, USDA has been regularly updating its stakeholders with information about the current outbreak, which to date, has not infected commercial poultry premises.

USDA reports that vND (previously called Exotic Newcastle Disease or END) “is one of the most infectious diseases of poultry in the world and is so deadly that many birds die without showing any signs of disease. A death rate of almost 100 percent can occur in unvaccinated poultry flocks. It can infect and cause death even in vaccinated birds.”

There are “three simple steps” USDA describes to prevent the disease from spreading to other flocks including:

Washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering an area with birds;

Cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before moving them off the property; and

Isolating any birds returning from shows for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock.

Bird owners are directed to contact state and federal animal health officials if their birds exhibit the following clinical signs:

Sudden death and increased death loss in flock

Sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing

Greenish, watery diarrhea

Decreased activity, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, circling, complete stiffness

Swelling around the eyes and neck.

USDA also amended Veterinary Services Memorandum No. 800103 “Reissuance of Product Licenses for Autogenous Products and Guidance Concerning Restriction on the Production and Use of Veterinary Biologics,” seemingly related to concerns about the use of some virulent viruses in autogenous vaccines.

VS Memorandum 800.103 was signed on July 18, 2018, and cancels VS Memorandum 800.103 dated May 28, 2002. This memorandum provides guidance to licensees, permittees, and applicants concerning Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s restrictions on the production, importation, distribution, and use of autogenous biologics. This memorandum is effective immediately.

As described in Memorandum 800.103:  

APHIS restricts the importation and distribution of veterinary biologics from countries known to have exotic diseases, including, but not limited to, foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, highly pathogenic avian influenza, swine vesicular disease, Newcastle disease, African swine fever, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy if, in the opinion of APHIS, such products may endanger domestic animals, livestock, or poultry.

In addition, APHIS restricts the production and distribution of veterinary biologics, including, but not limited to, Brucella Abortus Vaccine, Vesicular Stomatitis Vaccine, and certain diagnostic products used in cooperative State/Federal/industry animal disease control and eradication programs, if it determines such products may interfere with disease surveillance and/or control and eradication efforts.

The instant amendments appear to be an attempt to prevent potentially virulent virus from inclusion in autogenous vaccines (a reasonable limitation).  Therefore, field isolates intended for inclusion in such products must be tested at an APHIS-approved laboratory before such use.

Hopefully, this outbreak will be resolved soon and without infecting more backyard or commercial-raised birds.

Edgy Animal Welfare

16 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2018

Richard L. Cupp

Pepperdine University School of Law

Date Written: July 18, 2018

Abstract

Legal animal welfare proponents should not reject out-of-hand reforms that may be celebrated by some as steps toward a radical version of animal rights. Rather, animal welfare proponents should consider the costs, risks, and benefits of all potential reforms. Some potential reforms’ risks and costs outweigh their benefits. But, both to improve animals’ welfare and to avoid irrelevance in an evolving society, legal animal welfare advocates should be willing to tolerate some costs and risks. Walking on the edge of slippery slopes is in some situations better than avoiding the slopes altogether. Connecticut’s 2016 animal advocacy statute provides an illustration of legal reform that legal animal welfare proponents should embrace even though it presents some risks of being perceived as a step toward a radical legal personhood rights paradigm.

Cupp, Richard L., Edgy Animal Welfare (July 18, 2018). Denver Law Review (Forthcoming); Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018/11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3216112

NOTE:  Law review articles available for free download at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=543387

I have previously described concerns about the lack of validation of 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).

It looks like I am not the only veterinarian concerned about the injudicious use of genetic testing in animals.  As other veterinarians and scientists recently discussed in Nature’s “Pet genomics medicine runs wild:”

Genetic testing for dogs is big business.  It is too easy for companies to sell false hope, warn Lisa Moses, Steve Niemi and Elinor Karlsson.  They call for regulation.

These authors identify the following deficiencies in animal genetic testing:

  1. Weak science
  2. Lack of validation
  3. Imprecise results or interpretation
  4. Conflicts of interest

They propose the following logical five-step plan to help insure that genetic testing provides animal owners with validated, science-based and valuable information about their pets.

  1. Establish standards
  2. Create guidelines
  3. Share data
  4. Recruit tools and expertise
  5. Education counsellors

The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) a partnership of national kennel clubs, industry and non-profit organizations, whose mission (described here) “is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of resources to enhance the health, well-being and welfare of pedigreed dogs and all dogs worldwide” congratulated the authors on their commentary and noted that to their own initiative – the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (HGTD) – was engaged in the development of oversight of these tools and emphasized “the phenomenal potential for genetic testing to support health, well-being and welfare in dogs, as well as aspects of human-dog interactions.”

The goal of HGTD is reportedly to improve standardization of, and access to, robust genetic  testing to support health improvements and a sustainable future for healthy dogs.

The use of genetic tests to assist animal breeders in selecting for desired traits is nothing new.

For example, in 2006, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service was studying the use of genetic tests for “beefing” up cattle breeding programs, as reported on USDA’s website.  Even before that, as early as 1998, geneticists, including Mark F. Allan was researching the “genetic regions linking to the twinning trait” in cattle.

Marker-assisted selection will allow breeders to increase the speed and accuracy of traditional assessment methods, but its advantages extend beyond the seedstock industry. Commercial cattle producers would be able to purchase bulls with superior genetics. The desirable characteristics in the livestock would ultimately translate into better products for consumers.

Genetic testing, when used judiciously, has helped animal and human health officials understand the spread of pathogens, such as avian influenza, so that measures can be implemented to prevent or mitigate such spread.

Undoubtedly, the use of genetic testing will continue to advance, and provide benefits to both animals and humans invested in their care.