Shelter dogs to be tested

Photo Courtesy: Westfield Animal Shelter
Photo Courtesy: Westfield Animal Shelter

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Dogs at the Westfield Animal Shelter looking for their forever homes may have better chances for adoption now that their breed makeup can be determined by the shelter staff.

Kerri Francis, the acting manager of the city’s animal control operations, said Wednesday that the practice of Rigali and Walder Orthodontics of Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst recently made a $600 donation to buy a dozen DNA testing kits which will allow the shelter volunteers to know what breeds have been blended to make each of the dogs waiting for new homes.

“It would be pretty cool to figure out what these dogs are,” Francis said. “It could work against us, it could help us (place dogs),” she said but said that, no matter what breeds are found in the shelter dogs, there are benefits from DNA testing.

She explained that the vast majority of dogs which find their ways to the city’s Apremont Way shelter are randomly bred dogs which are often called ‘pit bulls’, a name which carries significant stigma and may make them harder to adopt. She said that ‘pit bull’ is not actually a recognized breed but is a generic term for short haired dogs, sometimes used as fighting dogs, bred from numerous recognized breeds such as American Staffordshire terriers, boxers, mastiffs, several breeds of bull dogs and many other breeds.

By knowing what breeds comprise an available dog, Francis said, staff and potential adopters will be able to evaluate the dog more accurately and get away from the often negative emotions which often accompany the ‘pit bull’ label.

In addition, persons who adopt the shelter dogs may find that, by knowing the dominant breed of their new best friend, they may be able to sidestep breed specific restrictions which could impact their homeowner’s insurance premiums.

A third benefit Francis sees from the DNA testing is that medical care can be improved by knowing what breeds make up a dog, because different breeds have different propensities for different ailments. Therefore, diagnosis and treatment may be better because a veterinarian may have a better idea of what to look for when treating a dog with known DNA.

The volunteers who care for the dogs at the shelter may also see a benefit from knowing what breeds comprise a dog as they may be able to better know what to expect as they exercise, train and care for the dogs.

“A lot of breeds need more attention than others,” Francis said, “everyone learns differently.”

The volunteers apparently think highly of the DNA testing program since they collected another $600 amongst themselves, giving the shelter 24 testing kits to work with. Francis said that seven dogs were tested so far and DNA samples have been sent to a testing lab. She said that dogs available for adoption will be tested “until we run out of tests.”

Then, she said, “we’re going to see how these work, see if it actually helps” before searching for funding to buy additional test kits.
Like many agencies, the city’s animal shelter is chronically short of funding so test kits would be added to the ‘wish list’ of supplies needed. Francis said that the most welcome donations at the shelter always include dog food (both dry and wet), laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, paper towels and toilet paper.

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Media Credit: The Westfield News

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