DNA Dogs: an amazing story

Many years ago I met a very special dog, called “Butch”.

Jack Haskins with "Butch" (left)

Jack Haskins with "Butch" (left)

At first glance, Butch appeared to be no different to any other dog. But Butch was anything but just “another dog”. Butch is a “Biological Body Fluid Detection Dog”, who was extensively trained by his handler, Inspector Jack Haskins, at the Pretoria dog school. Together, the Labrador-cross-Pointer and Haskins assist in obtaining forensic evidence at crime scenes. Butch’s expertise is mainly required in cases where body fluids are invisible to the naked eye. “Butch can detect one drop of blood diluted in 1 000 drops of water,” said Haskins. At the time of meeting this incredible team, we heard that they did not have a camera to record these detections for use in court. The DNA Project immediately raised the money and donated a high resolution digital camera to Jack and Butch so that they could do their job without any hindrances.

At the Interpol Conference in Pretoria last year, I met another two of these amazing dogs “Seun” and “Boras” and their dedicated handlers, Warrant Officers’ van Wyngaardt and Joubert.

Meisie and Boris

'Seun' (left) and 'Boras' with their handlers W/O van Wyngaardt and Joubert in Pretoria, Dec 2011.

These “DNA” dogs, as I like to call them,  are trained to detect body fluids (blood and semen) at crime scenes such as murder and rape, even if the crime scene has been cleaned. They assist forensic teams by narrowing the search to an area as small as within a radius of 10 centimetres. The body fluids they locate can be tested for DNA that can link a suspect to a crime scene or a victim to a crime scene. Even if the crime scene has been thoroughly cleaned, blood can still seep into areas such as the grouting between tiles or skirting boards, under flooring, into clothing seams or furnishings. With their keen sense of smell, these ‘Biological Fluid Detection” dogs are trained to pick up the scent, even where traces of blood have been left at a scene several years ago. For example, Butch detected blood at a scene which was already four years old, where a murder had allegedly been committed and the body had never been found. The house had even been re-tiled, but Butch found evidence of body fluid at the bottom of a cupboard where it had seeped into the wood.

Warrant Officer van Wyngaard with his DNA Dog, "Meisie"

Warrant Officer van Wyngaardt with his DNA Dog, "Seun"

Warrant Officer Joubert with his DNA Dog, "Boris"

Warrant Officer Joubert with his DNA Dog, "Boras"

A case study:

Butch assisted in the “Pennington case”, where three women were raped at their beach flat in December 2006. Butch had located evidence that pointed forensic experts to DNA linking the rapists to the crime scene. Three men were later convicted and sentenced for the crime.

Another case in which Butch found forensic evidence was the high profile case of Jeanette Naicker, who was murdered in Chatsworth, Durban, in April 2007. She had been killed by her son-in-law, Sadhasiven Chetty, at her home. Chetty had cleaned up the house after the murder and dumped Naicker’s body elsewhere. When it was discovered, he had behaved as though shocked. Haskins and Butch were called to assist in the investigation and Butch detected blood in several places in the house which had been cleaned by Chetty. Chetty confessed to the murder when he could not explain away the blood found in the house.

There are not many of these amazing Biological Fluid Detection Dogs in South Africa; in fact they are quite rare throughout the world. Their usefulness is without question, invaluable in crime scene detection, particularly in South Africa and we hope that we see many more of these incredible dogs being trained in South Africa in the future. Their handlers are some of the most dedicated people I have met, who work under extreme conditions, around the clock and have very little resources made available to them – for instance one dog handler told me that he has to personally print the photos of his dog when he detects evidence, so that this can be used as evidence in court – the vast amounts of ink required for this purpose is paid for out of his own pocket. Some of his colleagues don’t even have a printer to do this nor a camera to take these photos (they have to use their cell phones!) and are forced to find other ways to photograph and print the photos required for court.  Should you wish to know more about these dogs, or would like to help their handlers in any way, please email me on info@dnaproject.co.za and I will forward you their information.

with thanks,

Vanessa Lynch

One Response to “DNA Dogs: an amazing story”

  1. […] Jack Haskins demonstrated how his Bio-dog ‘Butch’ is used by police to search for biological evidence such as blood to assist investigators with […]