Dog breeds often mislabeled at rescue shelters

Posted at 6:29 PM, Feb 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-26 18:29:03-05

When a dog arrives at an animal shelter for adoption, the work of identifying the breed of a dog is usually just an educated guess.

A recently-published study by the University of Florida's veterinary program reveals that shelter dogs are often misidentified based on physical characteristics. The unintended side effect is that the misidentification often leads to a decreased rate of adoption, and an increased rate of being euthanized.

In the UF study of 120 dogs by experienced veterinarians and shelter staff members in the state, up to 48% of dogs were misidentified as being part American Staffordshire terrier, more commonly referred to as "pit bull," even when genetic testing later revealed the dog to have no pit bull genes over the past three generations.

A Tampa animal shelter also is studying the same issue using DNA testing.

David Morton of the Hillsborough County Pet Services Center did a little experiment in which he had 24 dogs DNA tested, many of which had been at the shelter for a while and were presumed to be some kind of pit bull mix based on physical characteristics.

Some test results show many dogs presumed to be pit bulls were actually not at all.

Morton said tests designed to help clarify a dog's breed will be helpful to people looking to adopt a pet previous only described as a "pit bull mix."

"Did it make a huge difference with them being adopted? We can't say for sure, but we know [the dogs] sat here in the kennels for greater than 30 days before we did the test... and then shortly thereafter they were adopted or rescued out," Morton said.

Morton and the county animal shelter on Falkenburg Road is considering expanding the DNA testing program, especially if it continues to show results, because it might prove to be cost-effective as well.

Morton estimates that housing a dog at the shelter costs anywhere from $20-$30 per day, while testing a dog's DNA costs $50 he says.