Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Texas Court Puts Another Nail in the Scent Lineup Coffin, but Should the Concept Be Buried Entirely?

A recent appellate decision continues the trend of Texas courts to reject scent lineup evidence, as to which those courts were once the most welcoming in the country. The case, Texas v. Smith, 2011 WL 480600 (Ct. App. 2011), adds some nuance to prior decisions regarding scent lineups, justifying an analysis.

Officers collected scent samples from inside the car in which a murder victim was found in 2003. Two years later, a dog handler, Deputy Keith Pikett, conducted a scent lineup with six individuals, all black males, standing 25 to 30 feet apart in a wagon wheel formation. Three bloodhounds were scented to samples that had been recovered from the vehicle. The dogs alerted to two individuals in the lineup depending on what they were scented to, but all alerted to Jason Smith, the defendant, after being scented on a Wessen .357 Magnum recovered during the investigation. Another scent lineup (or lineups) were performed regarding another defendant besides Smith, but produced no identifications.

Smith moved for a hearing on the admissibility of the evidence under the state’s case law on scientific evidence. The trial court initially approved admission of the scent lineup, but changed its mind on a subsequent motion. The court made 16 findings of fact:

1. Possible cross-contamination of the scents in the lineup in question, as admitted by the handler himself to explain one misidentification in one of the lineups.
2. Lack of any “blind” scent lineup without the defendant (though Pikett did conduct a scent lineup without the defendant but with a co-defendant).
3. Failure of the handler to keep complete records of scent lineups his dogs have performed.
4. Incomplete training records of the dogs.
5. Lack of accuracy or error rates because of the failure to keep records.
6. Handler’s records, such as they were, were not subject to peer review.
7. Failure of the handler to record the dispositions of cases in which his dogs participated.
8. Failure of the handler to perform validation testing on his dogs during scent lineups.
9. Handler testified that no one reviewed his work.
10. The bloodhounds were not certified and, in any case, the court noted the lack of any recognized industry standard on bloodhounds and no certification program for bloodhounds.
11. While the idea that bloodhounds can track and identify scents was accepted as valid, there is no clearly accepted method for conducting scent lineups.
12. No literature offered by the prosecution in support of the manner in which the scent lineups were conducted.
13. No independent evidence presented by the prosecution regarding the potential rate of error in the lineups.
14. No evidence presented by the prosecution regarding the availability of other experts to test and evaluate the manner in which the scent lineup in question was conducted.
15. The defense presented evidence that the dogs in question could have been intentionally or unintentionally influenced by the dog handler because the manner in which the scent lineup in question was conducted (i.e., potential for cueing).
16. No showing that the scent lineup results could be duplicated by others following the same methods.

The use of the term “blind” in finding 2 is confusing. Blindness in a scent lineup usually refers to procedures in which the handler and dog are ignorant of which person in the lineup is the suspect, or which station contains the suspect’s scent. Here, blindness appears not to refer to the knowledge of the handler and others present during a trial about the position of the suspect, but rather to a trial in which no suspect would be present. A trial in which no alert will be correct is usually called a blank, a zero trial, a negative trial, or a non-match run (see SWGDOG SC 9: Human Scent Dogs: Scent Identification Lineups §

The trial judge concluded that Pikett’s methods in the case had not been shown to be sufficiently reliable to be admitted and that he could not testify as an expert. The prosecution appealed.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed the test enunciated in Nenno v. Texas, 970 S.W.2d 549 (Tex.Crim.App. 1998), which applies where training and experience, rather than scientific principles, are determinative of the reliability of the evidence. This test requires a showing that (1) the field of expertise is a legitimate one, (2) the subject matter of the expert, in his testimony, is within the scope of the field, and (3) the expert's testimony properly relies upon or utilizes the principles involved in the field. The test had been applied to admit scent lineup evidence in Winston v. Texas, 78 S.W.3d 522 (Ct. App. 2002). More recently. the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Winfrey v. Texas, 323 S.W.3d 875 (Tex.Crim.App. 2010) held that a scent lineup could not support a conviction, but Winfrey did not address admissibility under Kelly and Nenno. Kelly v. Texas, 824 S.W.2d 568 (Tex.Crim.App. 1992) is the Texas case describing the admission of evidence from the hard sciences.

In reviewing the case against Smith, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s determination that Deputy Pikett’s records were incomplete:

"Deputy Pikett's testimony reveals that though he maintains some records for training and practice lineups, these records are incomplete as are his records verifying the outcome of cases in which his dogs have identified suspects and the records of the dogs' success rates. Given the evidence before the trial court at the September 12, 2007 hearing, the trial judge reasonably could have concluded that the State had failed to carry its burden of showing that the proffered expert testimony was reliable."

The appellate court then distinguished Winston, which also involved Pikett, but where Pikett’s testimony was admitted, by noting that in that case, unlike Smith, Pikett had referred to his procedures being consistent with the manual of the National Police Bloodhound Association. In Winston, Pikett had produced success rates, making the case “factually distinguishable” from Smith. Perhaps this is a way of saying that the prosecution was better prepared in Winston than it was here, or perhaps the Smith court was saying that the Winston court had not looked at the evidence as carefully. Alternatively, Pikett was testifying in a more friendly environment in the earlier case and did a better job of covering over the deficiencies in his recordkeeping.

The appellate court also noted that in Smith Pikett used multiple dogs and ran multiple tests, “contrary to expert recommendations and accepted methods.” The court notes that “multiple dogs can create an unwanted pattern for the dogs or trainer.” This is correct insofar as it goes. By leaving a trail for other dogs to follow, or saliva on an item, dogs may be following each other rather than making independent findings. (See Jezierski T, Walczak M, Gorecka A (2008). Information-seeking behaviour of sniffer dogs during match-to-sample training in the scent lineup, Polish Psych. Bull. 39(2), 71-80.) Nevertheless, as I have summarized elsewhere, use of multiple dogs can increase accuracy rates for positive identifications (though reducing the number of positive identifications overall since the more dogs used, the less often they will all make the same match). However, procedures involving multiple dogs assume that the testing environment of a scent match lineup is rigorously cleansed between trials. Also, the use of zero trials without the defendant (finding 2) would presume additional trials should have been conducted, so some of the court’s findings may be inconsistent.

The appellate court, like the trial court, referred to blindness, using the term “double blind” in stating that “Deputy Pikett indicated that he keeps the process simple and does not conduct a ‘double blind’ lineup.”

"According to the record, Deputy Pikett testified that he did not run a blind test to validate the accuracy of dogs' original identification of Smith. Deputy Pikett cited his science background to 'keep it simple, stupid, and get out of all that crap,' when others tried to complicate the process."

Given the lack of discussion of scent lineup research, it is unclear what others Pikett thought were complicating the process, or what research or protocols he thought were crap, but his criticism of double-blinded testing certainly conflicts with SWGDOG and other protocols. See SWGDOG SC 9 Human Scent Dogs: Scent Identification Lineups § (“No one present in the room, including the dog and handler shall know the correct outcome of the lineup.”). Again, it is uncertain exactly how either Pikett or the court were defining “blindness.”

The defense presented evidence that Pikett may have “intentionally or unintentially influenced” his dogs, i.e., cued them. Cueing has recently been the subject of a study by three scientists at the University of California at Davis, research which is likely to lead to this issue being referenced more often as a flaw in the use of dogs in a wide range of detection and identification work by police. On the appeal in Smith, the prosecution argued that Pikett “could not have influenced his dogs in their identification of Smith because he did not know in which position Smith stood….” The appellate court rejected this assertion because Pikett had access to Smith’s case file and set up the lineup.

The prosecution made another argument on appeal, saying that the trial court had effectively applied Kelly, not Nenno—i.e., that the trial court had imposed the standards for the admission of evidence derived from the hard sciences. The prosecution said that findings 6 (peer review of records not performed), 9 (lack of review of handler’s work), 12 (no scent lineup literature offered), and 14 (no supportive experts), should not have gone to the admissibility of the evidence, only its weight. It is not clear to me where peer review was expected to come from, or if items 6 and 9 are distinguishable. Perhaps item 6 refers to review of Pikett’s findings in the particular case, while item 9 might involve periodic testing of Pikett to validate his procedures and their reliability. The latter might have been provided by an organization like that National Police Bloodhound Association, but perhaps Pikett had not been attending such gatherings despite his reference to the association in prior cases. The Smith court noted that “hard science methods of validation, such as assessing the potential rate of error or subjecting a theory to peer review” might be appropriate “for testing the reliability of fields of expertise outside of hard science in appropriate cases.” This is an important observation and could have significance for other canine evidence cases.

After going through these and other arguments, the Houston branch of the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, stating that “the trial court could have concluded that there was too large of an analytical gap between the data offered and Deputy Pikett’s proffered opinion,” and that a “trial court should not admit expert testimony that is connected to existing data only by the expert’s own assertions.” Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the scent lineup evidence.

Regardless of which evidentiary standard was applied by the trial court—the standard applied to hard scientific evidence or a less rigorous standard of the sort often applied to scent lineups, or something in between—the lineups in this case were highly deficient. The possible cross-contamination may not have been the handler’s fault, but no contact should have been permitted. Training and performance records should be complete, and should include, or easily produce, accuracy rates. Dogs and handlers should be tested periodically. The failure of the prosecution to introduce scientific literature may have been due to the fact that the scientific literature by Schoon and more recently by Jezierski and others would not support use of the human scent lineup format apparently preferred by Pikett, and would certainly have indicated that many of his procedures were unsatisfactory from a scientific perspective. Alternatively, the prosecution’s failure may be explained by the frequent tendency of trial lawyers to overlook the significance of and the need to prepare for the introduction of canine evidence.

The pendulum is swinging strongly against the admission of scent lineup evidence. I do not quarrel with the decisions so far since the U.S. scent lineups I know anything about should not have been admitted in the first place. On that, Professor Taslitz is still correct. Nevertheless, I am bothered by the blanket junk science label since this implies that scent lineup procedures can never be refined and controlled enough to provide reliable evidence. As I have argued in the draft paper mentioned above, research on scent identification has begun to produce results comparable to other forensics procedures that are widely admitted in criminal trials.

Thanks to Gene Papet for helpful comments on this note.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Communication Across the Species Divide Helps Find Game, and Food Bowls

When Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in The Common Law that “even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked,” I believe he was thinking of eye contact between humans and dogs. A few mornings ago I tripped over Chloe because she was in an unusual place for her. She looked up at me to assure herself that my clumsiness was accidental, that everything was all right. Or so I imagine. A scientist would argue that I could not interpret Chloe’s look, but there is something so elemental, even ancient, in our relationship with dogs that we do not hesitate to say that we understand each other.

Gesture research by animal behaviorists has confirmed aspects of this. Dr. Sophia Yin, whose research on barking I cited in Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society, recently posted a blog in which she tested her own dogs in a pointing gesture study. She found that most of the time, in a two-choice test, dogs went to the food bowl she was pointing at. Pointing with a hand extended beyond the body was most successful, and though the dogs did not perform as well as two- and three- year-old children, they did perform much better than chance would dictate (somewhere between 65% and 80%, depending on the obviousness of the gesture).

Communication between dogs and humans is one of the themes running through the plates in the hunting book by Gaston Phoebus (1331-1391). The illustrated edition of Le Livre de Chasse, published around 1405, has wonderful miniatures depicting various stages of the hunt. The first plates show the animals in their communities, without human interference. The young play while others eat and mothers nurse their young. Wild boars, deer, foxes. Only the culture of the wolves is presented unsympathetically, most of them dripping blood as they eat one thing or another. The plates move through the stages of the hunt, from gathering the hounds, making the nets, putting dogs on the trail, the horsemen running ahead to be ready when the dogs drive the prey to them, the capture and kill, and the feast at the end. Every plate is a gem.

The plate reproduced here shows a handler in the lower right (in orange) encouraging a group of dogs to follow the direction of his hand. He expects them to understand this gesture, and and it is easy to imagine him talking to the more attentive members of the pack. Even six hundred years ago we could not help this, probably not even 10,000 years ago. Neither can they.

Additional Note. The quote from Holmes also caught the attention of Harold J. Berman in Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion (Eerdmans, Cambridge, UK, 2000), p. 10. Berman wrote:

"Justice Holmes once wrote that even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked. We would add that even a dog becomes upset if his master rewards him one minute and punishes him the next for the same thing."

While I regard Berman as one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century--too much overlooked in many debates--I believe his observation is not nearly as precise as that of Holmes. Anyone who has taught a basic obedience class knows that many, probably most, masters are inconsistent in doling out rewards and punishments, rarely seeing that they are sending mixed signals to their dogs. The dogs will be confused, and will not know what is expected, but in the end will respond, if at all, in the way that seems most likely to get a reward or avoid a punishment. It is doubtful that they contemplate the whole situation from a point of wondering what is just or unjust. Berman did not see that Holmes was describing an immediate eye contact phenomenon, not a rudimentary concept of justice in the dog's mind. The dog is looking for signals, as dogs have since the beginning of domestication, not attempting to enter a dialogue about rights and wrongs in the domesticated state. I suspect in the end that Holmes' experience with gun dogs had given him a solid sense of how dogs react to our movements.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Great Danes and Gunpowder

The Great Dane Club of America provides an official standard for the breed, which under the heading of Temperament states that the dog “must be spirited, courageous, always friendly and dependable, and never timid or aggressive.” Writing in 1893, just six years before the Great Dane Club of America was created, Rawdon Briggs Lee portrays the Great Dane as the pit bull of its time, observing that the dog “always had a temper and disposition of his own, which could not be controlled when he became excited.” Problems arose when London passed muzzling laws, since “muzzling amazed him, and made him savage, the restraint of chain or lead was not to be borne.” When a rabies scare drastically reduced the presence of the breed in parts of England, Lee generally saw this as a good thing since a Great Dane, “when not under control, was fond of fighting, and his immense strength and power gave him a great advantage over any other dog.”

The drawing here is taken from Lee’s History & Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain & Ireland (Sporting Division), showing a face entirely lacking in the Scooby Doo innocent curiosity and kindliness Americans now associate with the breed. Lee's Great Dane has cunning and determination, with no sympathy at all for the object in his sight.

I would like to think that pit bulls could go through a similar transformation in public perception. Unfortunately, a great many people seem to have a vested interest in retaining the image of ferocity for the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier. There are neighborhoods not far from where I spend winters in Phoenix where pit bull owners mix gunpowder with dog food out of some ridiculous belief that it will make the dogs fight better. It is poisoning them instead. I googled “gunpowder & pit bulls” and found that though most of the hits discouraged the idea, a few idiots provide recipes, sometimes adding steroids, WD-40, and ground glass to concoctions that will guarantee bloody victory in some abandoned barn in the desert south of Phoenix.

Perhaps in every generation some breeds must be saints, some demons. But these are our myths, not theirs.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Changing One Word in Definition Assures Dogs Helping Autistic Children Can Be Service Animals

The definition of service animal in the regulations issued by the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act has been changed by replacing one word, “handler,” with “individual.” The change, printed in the Federal Register of March 11, 2011, is labeled a correction, obviating the need for any review process. Thus, the most broadly applicable definition of “service animal” in the United States now reads as follows:

"Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition." 28 CFR 35.104 and 36.104

The change was made, according to the Department of Justice, because “a service animal is not always controlled by the individual with a disability.” This adjustment in terminology has also been made throughout the preamble to the regulations, included as Appendix A to Part 36. Since the final rules are effective March 15, there was no need to make the change retroactive.

It appears likely that the modification is a recognition that autism service dogs are often trained to work with autistic children but not to obey commands they may give. The handler of the dog is not the child but usually a parent, although the commands relate to the child's condition. School personnel may also become involved in training and thus be able to give some commands to an autism service dog. The fact the child is not the handler has figured in disputes concerning whether such dogs are really service dogs. See K.D. v. Villa Grove Community Unit School District No. 32 Board of Education, 936 N.E.2d 690 (Ill. App. 2010); Kalbfleisch v. Columbia Community Unit School No. 4, 396 Ill.App.3d 1105, 920 N.E.2d 651, 336 Ill.Dec. 442, 252 Ed. Law Rep. 918 (2009).

K.D. and Kalbfleisch were suits between parents and school authorities, however, and the parents won. The resolution of a case with direct involvement of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice was announced on March 7 by DOJ. DOJ said it had been investigating the Hillsboro, Oregon, school district, which eventually responded to pressure from the federal agency:

"The Justice Department announced today that the Hillsboro, Oregon, School District will allow Jordan “Scooter” Givens to bring his trained autism service dog into his classroom in the Hillsboro School District. The highly trained service dog, Madison, provides critical assistance to Scooter, recognizing when he is about to engage in behavior that might endanger him, and distracting him to obstruct this type of behavior. For nearly three years, Scooter’s parents’ efforts to get permission for Scooter to bring Madison to school had been rebuffed. After U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton and a senior attorney from the Civil Rights Division met in late January with the superintendent of the Hillsboro School District regarding the failure to accommodate the Givens’ request, the school district announced last Friday that it would allow Scooter to be accompanied by the service dog for a trial period."

The Justice Department was brought into the case by Joel Greenberg, an attorney with Disability Rights Oregon. Although courts had taken Justice’s position even without the adjusted terminology, the revised definition may help avoid disputes in the future.

76 Fed. Reg. 13285 - 13288 (March 11, 2011).

Thanks to Patty Dobbs Gross of North Star Foundation for providing the picture, which shows an autistic boy meeting his service dog for the first time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Changing Preconceptions on Breed Aesthetics May Be Necessary to Stop Docking and Cropping

In 2005, my wife and I were in Germany where we saw Doberman pinschers with floppy ears and long tails, cropping and docking having gone out of practice in the country. At first the dogs looked wrong to me, but after a few days I got used to it and within a week began to prefer this appearance. Aesthetic expectations about dogs can be overcome, but it made me wonder why such expectations arise at all.
Docking and cropping as terms applied to dogs can only be verified well after the practice began. The Oxford English Dictionary cites references to docking horses' tails from 1419 and 1530, but the earliest mention of docking a dog's tail comes from Boswell's Life of Johnson. Cropping the ears of animals is described as a form of branding for identification in the OED's entry for the verb. Expeditation--mutilation of the dogs to prevent their bothering the king's deer--can be verified as occurring hundreds of years earlier (see blog of January 8, 2011).
The origins of docking and cropping of English hunting dogs apparently lie in perceived practicalities. Rawdon Briggs Lee, in his 1893 book on sporting breeds of England and Ireland, cites a foxhound authority that rounding of the ears of the foxhound, taking an inch and a half off the end of the ear, was begun to prevent “canker either from foul blood or mechanical injury.” Lee also states that the spaniel’s tail is docked “because the spaniel in working covert is less likely to injure his tail by lashing it backwards and forwards and tearing it amongst the tangled briers and thick undergrowth.”

Lee, in his chapter on setters, refers to the drawing by Aldrovandus reproduced here, drawn before 1607, showing a spaniel or setter with a short tail flushing quail. Lee notes that Aldrovandus does not mention whether the dog's tail has been cropped, or if the animal was naturally bob-tailed. He clearly suspects the latter, as do I, given that two of the 15 drawings in De Quadripedibus are of short-tailed dogs. (See blog of January 26, 2011, for additional information and links regarding Aldrovandus.)
Yet Lee knew that dogs had their own opinions about cropping of their ears, as the following account from his book demonstrates.
A few years ago, I was attending one of the Crystal Palace dog shows, and engaged in conversation with a man, well known as a skillful performer on the ears of terriers and other dogs. Walking past the benches where the Danes were chained, we were startled by a terrible growl and furious lunge, a huge brindled dog springing up and making violent attempts to reach the man to whom I was talking. Luckily for him the chain and collar and staple held. I never saw so much ferocity depicted on the face of any animal whatever as there was on the countenance of that Great Dane. It would have been bad for that man had it got loose. Need it be said, we soon gave it a wide berth. “What was the meaning of that?” said I to the fellow, who was, in reality, very much frightened and shaken by the occurrence. “Well,” said he, “I know the dog, he was badly ‘cropped,’ and about five months ago, Mr. ----- called me down to his place to ‘perform’ on his ears again. We had a terrible job with him, and I guess the dog just recognized me, and wanted to have his revenge.”
At the time, anesthesia was not part of the procedure.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has stated:
Ear cropping and tail docking in dogs for cosmetic purposes are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient. These procedures can cause pain and distress, and as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection. Therefore, veterinarians should counsel dog owners about these matters before agreeing to perform these surgeries.
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights takes a more aggressive position:
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights is opposed to various surgeries done to meet "breed standards" or to correct so-called vices. Procedures such as ear cropping, tail docking, or debarking in dogs, or declawing in cats are unacceptable because of the suffering and disfigurement they cause an animal are not offset by any benefits to the animal. If such a procedure can be shown to be necessary for medical or humane reasons, then it is permissible. The "breed standards" for dogs must be altered to allow the animals to be shown without being surgically mutilated.
Although advocates have introduced bills in various legislatures, modern laws seldom do more than require that veterinarians perform procedures, and that anesthesia be used. The U.S. territory of Guam statutorily requires:
Only a licensed veterinarian shall perform ear cropping or tail docking on an animal, which shall be performed in accordance with the American Veterinarian Medical Association policy, and the veterinarian shall counsel pet owners about this matter before agreeing to perform these surgeries and shall record said consultation in the pet's record. 10 Guam Code Annotated 34205(d) (added to the Code in 2008).
Some states, such as Maine, outlaw “mutilation,” but specifically exempt licensed veterinarians from the statutory crime. 7 Maine Revised Statutes Annotated 3907; Georgia Code Annotated 34205(d)
Pennsylvania has one of the most detailed cropping laws regarding dogs, contained in its animal cruelty statutes, which reads:
(1)(i) A person commits a summary offense if the person crops, trims or cuts off, or causes or procures to be cropped, trimmed or cut off, the whole or part of the ear or ears of a dog.
(ii) The provisions of this paragraph shall not prevent a veterinarian from cropping, trimming or cutting off the whole or part of the ear or ears of a dog when the dog is anesthetized and shall not prevent any person from causing or procuring the cropping, trimming or cutting off of a dog's ear or ears by a veterinarian.
(iii) The possession by any person of a dog with an ear or ears cropped, trimmed or cut off and with the wound or incision site resulting therefrom unhealed, or any such dog being found in the charge or custody of any person or confined upon the premises owned by or under the control of any person, shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this subsection by the person except as provided for in this subsection.
(iv) A person who procures the cropping, trimming or cutting off of the whole or part of an ear or ears of a dog shall record the procedure. The record shall include the name of the attending veterinarian and the date and location at which the procedure was performed. The record shall be kept as long as the wound or incision site is unhealed and shall be transferred with the dog during that period of time. 18 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated 5511 (h)(1).
The state also has a docking law that reads substantially the same, as well as a debarking law.
A New York court convicted an individual of animal cruelty for wrapping a rubber band around the base of a Rottweiler’s tail in an attempt to dock the tail. New York v. Nelson, 11 Misc.3d 126, 815 N.Y.S.2d 495, 2006 WL 395217 (N.Y. Superior Court, App. Term 2006). See also Elisea v. Indiana, 777 N.E.2d 46 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).
At the moment a massive legislative change to limit docking and cropping is unlikely. These procedures, though only cosmetic now, go back centuries and until recently were perceived to have a practical basis. It seems to me that change will only come from public acceptance of, and hopefully, eventual preference for the “natural” appearance of breeds.
Sources: Rawdon Briggs Lee, A History & Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland, Horace Cox, 1893, 57, 183-4, 401. An excellent website dealing with modern perspectives can be found at Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center. For changes in European perspectives, see Elaine L. Hughes and Christiane Meyer, Animal Welfare in Canada and Europe, 6 Animal Law Review 23 (2000). For a website listing breeds that are docked and cropped for breed standards, see Stop the Crops.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Black Lab Detects 12 Types of Cancer: An Odor Signature Common to All Cancers?

Twelve researchers at various institutions in Japan have described what may be one of the most promising uses of dogs for cancer screening, finding that dogs are particularly accurate for colorectal cancers, even for cancers in early stages. They speculate, however, that there may be a “specific cancer scent” that allows dogs to recognize a wide range of cancers.

Only one dog was used in the study, a female black Labrador retriever named Marine, obtained from the St. Sugar Cancer Sniffing Dog Training Center in Chiba Prefecture, Japan. The dog was trained for water rescue beginning in 2003, and for cancer detection beginning in 2005 in trials in which she was taught to recognize breath samples from esophageal cancer patients against four controls. The correct behavior was rewarded by play with a tennis ball. Training also involved patients with lung and gastric cancers. By the time the colorectal study began, the dog was able to identify breath samples of patients with a long list of cancers: esophageal, breast, lung, gastric, pancreatic, hepatocellular carcinoma, cholangiocarcinoma, colorectal, prostate, uterine, ovarian, and bladder.

The dog had a passive alert, sitting down in front of a sample station. A true positive was an indication to a cancer sample. A true negative was sniffing but not indicating to a control sample. Incorrect responses were indicating on a control sample (false positive), or sniffing but not indicating on a cancer sample. The dog indicated to both the breath sample and the watery stool sample of one control. A hesitation was considered to be an incomplete reaction and was also recorded as an incorrect response.

Breath samples were obtained from subjects, as were watery stool samples during colonoscopies. Some subjects had no history of cancer, while some had a previous cancer history. About half the controls had colorectal polyps and a few had bleeding or inflammatory colorectal disease, including ischaemic colitis, nonpeculiar colitis or ulcer, ulcerative colitis, diverticular bleeding, mesenteric panniculitis, and chronic appendicitis. The presence of blood in watery stool samples of individuals without cancer was found, however, not to confuse the dog. Nor were current smoking, benign colorectal polyps, inflammations, or infections.

Of 36 colorectal cancer patients where the trials involved breath samples, the dog indicated in 33 cases, 91% of the time. Two of the three incorrect responses were hesitations. Of 38 colorectal patients where the trials involved watery stool samples, the dog indicated correctly in 37 cases, 97% of the time.

The researchers do not argue that dogs can be used clinically, but do suggest that an effort should be made to find out what they are smelling:

“It may be difficult to introduce canine scent judgment into clinical practice owing to the expense and time required for the dog trainer and for dog education. Scent ability and concentration vary between different dogs and also within the same dog on different days. Moreover, each dog can only conduct tests for a maximum of 10 years. It is therefore necessary to identify the cancer-specific VOCs [volatile organic compounds] detected by dogs and to develop an early cancer detection sensor that can be substituted for canine scent judgment.”

Dogs have been trained to detect a large number of odors, in some cases dozens, but the researchers here speculated that either a specific cancer scent exists or a particular natural scent disappears in patients with cancer. The paper favored the idea of a specific cancer scent, meaning that a dog trained to recognize one cancer may be able to detect other cancers, at least in breath or stool samples. A summary of canine cancer sniffing research (see blog of July 11, 2010) found that dogs are better at some cancers than others, but sources of scent varied in the studies reviewed, as did research methods. A 2004 study of canine detection of bladder cancer by Willis et al. reported an instance where the dogs in the study all indicated to a control. Further testing of the control individual resulted in the discovery of a transitional cell carcinoma of the right kidney.

Further research is needed to see how effectively dogs recognize cancers they have not been trained to detect.

An article in the Mail & Guardian online reports that Marine is being cloned by a biotech company in South Korea.

Sources: Sonoda, H., Kohnoe, S., Yamazato, T., Satoh, Y., Morzono, G., Shikata, K., Morita, M., Watanabe, A., Morita, M., Kakeji, Y., Inoue, F., and Maehara, Y. (2011). Colorectal Cancer Screening with Odour Material by Canine Scent Detection. Gut (published online first on January 31, 2011); Williams, M. and Johnston, J.M. (2002). Training and Maintaining the Performance of Dogs (Canis familiaris) on an Increasing Number of Odor Discriminations in a Controlled Setting. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 78(1), 55-65 (dogs were trained to detect ten different odors, with the amount of time in training on a new odor decreasing as their odor repertoires increased); Willis, C.M., Church, S.M., Guest, C.M., Cook, W.A., McCarthy, N., Bransbury, A.J., Church, M.R.T., and Church, John C.T. (2004). Olfactory Detection of Human Bladder Cancer by Dogs: Proof of Principle Study, BMJ, 329, 712.

My thanks to Gene Papet for bringing this research to my attention.