DNA Test Saves Service Dog From the Death Penalty

Jeb, a 2-year-old rescue dog, was falsely accused of killing a neighbor's Pomeranian.

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Jeb was still a puppy when he was found chained up in a shed in Detroit in January 2016. The poor Belgian Malinois pup was all but abandoned — his owner had died, and the rest of his owner's family didn't want him.

Thankfully, rescue agency volunteer Kandie Morrison took the call about Jeb, and decided to bring him home to her family in St. Clair, Michigan. It was kismet: Now 2 years old, Jeb is the devoted service dog of Morrison's 79-year-old father, Kenneth Job, who has a rare neurodegenerative disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Because the condition causes nerve damage, Job's legs are very weak and he struggles to walk — but with Jeb's help, he's able to stand strong.

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The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

The Jobs lived happily with Jeb until August 24, 2016, when their neighbor of 30 years, Christopher Sawa, claims he looked out the window and saw Jeb standing over the body of his tiny Pomeranian, Vlad. Blaming Jeb for Vlad's death, Sawa called animal control.

Court proceedings for the case began on September 19, 2016. While Jeb continued to live in animal control custody, the Jobs and Sawa gathered in the local district courthouse. Judge Michael Hulewicz presided, ready to determine whether or not Jeb was a "dangerous animal" and should be sentenced to death.

Making a Case for Jeb

Jeb's attorney argued that there wasn't enough physical evidence to convict Jeb of the crime — even though Job admitted Jeb had gotten away from him that fateful day, there were also known strays and foxes in the area that could have just as easily killed Vlad. But Judge Hulewicz came to the verdict that the Jobs were dreading: He named Jeb a "dangerous animal" and ruled that he should be put to death.

"I have no choice except to follow out the state law that the animal would be destroyed," he said in the courtroom. "I don't like to do this. I don't like it at all."

Distraught, the Jobs made a last-minute request: Why not conduct a DNA test? Vlad's body was being kept in a freezer, so they could easily swab his wound and compare the findings to a swab of Jeb's DNA, the same way forensic scientists do when investigating human crimes.

The process cost the Jobs $416, but it was well worth it: The DNA from Vlad's bite didn't match Jeb's, and the sweet service dog was declared innocent.

The Effects of Canine Solitary Confinement

Unfortunately, the Jobs say Jeb's time in animal control's custody changed him — he came back about 15 pounds lighter, and now, even three months after returning home, is still skittish and afraid of strangers. And after spending nine weeks in a 6-by-3-1/2-foot kennel for 23 hours a day, you can't really blame him.

The Jobs hope their actions will inspire other pet owners to suggest the use of DNA testing in their animals' trials. They're frustrated that they had to come up with the idea in Jeb's case, but they're relieved their suggestion helped bring their beloved dog home safe.

"Now people will realize they can do this, that it's a tool," David Favre, JD, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law and editor in chief of the Animal Legal and Historical Center, told CNN. "They used a very creative defense."

[h/t CNN]

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