Animals’ DNA Helps Catch Their Abusers

Scruffy’s DNA was harvested in 2008 from a sample of burnt tissue found in the Brooklyn apartment where teenagers doused him with lighter fluid and set him aflame. Madea’s was found on the plastic guard of the umbrella that her owner’s son-in-law used to fatally club her in 2009.

This month, the two cats won a sort of high-tech posthumous justice, when their abusers were convicted in animal-cruelty cases built on a foundation of evidence from the victims themselves.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it was the first time animal DNA had been used to win cruelty convictions in New York City. And the convictions, returned on March 8 in separate trials, are two of only a handful that have been won in the country, experts said, though the existence of DNA evidence has encouraged many defendants to plead guilty.

Some 35 years after human DNA was first used in criminal cases, the collection of animal DNA is “becoming more and more common as law enforcement officials are thinking about using the genetic tools they have at their disposal in lesser crimes,” said Scott Heiser, criminal justice program director at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in California. Last year, scientists created the country’s first DNA database of dogs used in dog fights to help investigators establish ties among breeders, owners and the animals themselves.

Scruffy, a 1-year-old tabby also known as Tommy Two Times, was picked up in October 2008 after a building superintendent in Crown Heights who fed him regularly found him with much of his fur and skin burned off.

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