Gloucestershire Constabulary has announced it is the first police force in the world to use a centralised doggy DNA database to clamp down on pet theft - but it's relying entirely on a commercial provider for both the tech and the database.
Dubbed DNA Protected, the programme sees pooch parents taking mouth swab samples from their pets, which are analysed for DNA with the result being recorded in a centralised database. Should there be any question about the ownership of an animal, a new sample can be taken for comparison.
It's an alternative to microchipping, and addresses one key flaw: in cases of theft, rather than straying, a ne'er-do-well could remove or swap out a microchip, something that's impossible with a dog's personal DNA.
"DNA is unique and a fact that has enabled Forensic Services to identify criminals for many years," said head of forensic services Chris Allen. "With the application of the same processes used for human identification, the DNA Protected service promises a searchable database of canine DNA information.
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"I am confident that DNA Protected will greatly assist police in reducing the heart-breaking crime of dog theft and reuniting pets with their owners in the future," he said.
"There has been a national rise in dog thefts since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and I am hopeful that this initiative will help to reassure owners and protect the dogs of Gloucestershire," added temporary chief inspector Emma MacDonald of the need for the database.
"Dog theft can have a massive impact on the owner and their families as dogs are often seen as family members and as a force we are committed to doing all that we can to prevent dog thefts from happening. All of our police dogs have been profiled and given new Velcro patches for their harnesses which shows our confidence in the scheme."
There is, however, a catch. It's not Gloucestershire Constabulary itself which is operating the programme, but a private firm: Cellmark Forensic Services. Customer data is held on a Cellmark database to which the police can submit a query, rather than on the Police National Computer (PNC).
"Cellmark has been at the forefront of forensic DNA profiling for over 30 years and we are pleased to be assisting Gloucestershire Constabulary to prevent and investigate dog theft," said managing director David Hartshorne of his company's involvement.
"We developed the DNA Protected service to assist with crime prevention and to help the police return stolen or lost dogs to their owners and it's great that our forensic DNA tools, which have been used for many years to identify people and investigate crime, will now be used to help combat dog theft."
Entry into the database isn't free, either: Cellmark charges £74.99 (around $105) for a swabbing kit, analysis service, and entry into the database, and also sells tags and collars marking an animal as "DNA Protected" starting at £4.99 (around $7). ®