With something that sounds like a plot twist from a television crime show, DNA evidence was used to prove a case of mistaken identity for a dog who had been sentenced to death.
Penny and Kenneth Job of St. Clair, Michigan adore Kenneth’s service dog Jeb Stuart. Two-year-old Belgian Malinois Jeb is a gentle dog who helps Ken, who suffers from the neurodegenerative disease Charcot-Marie-Tooth, when he falls down. Though Jeb had a rough start in life–his first owner died and Jeb was left chained inside a shed in Detroit before being rescued and service trained–he lived peacefully with his three fur-siblings, seven cats and even some chickens.
Everything changed when Jobs’ neighbor, Christopher Sawa, called animal control one morning last August because his little Pomeranian Vlad was outside, lifeless, in his yard. Jeb was standing over him, presumably guilty of killing Vlad, and the Jobs family was stunned. They knew Jeb would never hurt any living thing, but the ‘eyewitness evidence’ was heavy against Jeb.
Animal control immediately came and took Jeb, putting him in a kennel 23 hours a day for almost nine weeks while the courts decided if Jeb was indeed guilty, and what would be done if he was. When Jeb was taken, he weighed almost 90 pounds, but because of his isolation and restraint at the kennels, he lost over 15 pounds and became nervous and skittish around anyone and anything.
In the meantime, in a district court, Mr. Sawa testified that he’d found Jeb standing over his dead dog, and that he’d been scared of Jeb’s barking and ominous stature before. He had no doubt that Jeb had killed his little Vlad, who’d been like a child to him and his wife. The Jobs could not argue that Jeb was not a possible suspect, as he and their three other dogs had escaped that morning, though they’d gone the opposite direction of their neighbor’s home. The Jobs’ attorney said there was no actual physical evidence that Jeb had killed Vlad, and that even just that morning a neighborhood vet had seen an unfriendly stray dog in the area.
Still, the judge decided that Jeb was a dangerous animal, and as a result, had to follow state law that said Jeb had to be put to sleep, leaving Jeb’s family devastated. During the trial, they learned that Vlad was not cremated after his death, and his body was still accessible from the county morgue. Desperate, Jeb’s family requested that DNA samples be taken from both Vlad’s body and Jeb, to be 100% sure that Jeb was indeed guilty of the crime for which he was about to be fatally punished for.
Two months after Jeb had been taken into custody, the county forensic specialist reported the findings on the samples, and finally there was indisputable proof–Jeb’s DNA did not match the DNA that was found on Vlad’s wounds, and Jeb was exonerated. Jeb’s mom Penny said they were overjoyed, though saddened by the way he’d been treated when he was in custody, and that even now, Jeb still seems to be afraid of strange men. They are also angry that their innocent dog was nearly euthanized when a simple and reasonably priced ($416) DNA test proved Jeb’s innocence. Because dogs are considered ‘property’ instead of ‘beings,’ they have no rights.
We applaud the Jobs Family for exhausting every avenue they could to prove their dog’s innocence, and though we are sad that poor Jeb had to endure what he did, we hope that his story might give way to more families using DNA evidence in similar cases. Like it did for Jeb, it could mean the difference between life and death.
Lori Ennis is a wife, mama and friend to all animals. A self-confessed “Hot Mess,” she lives wherever the Marine Corps takes her husband. Currently, that’s Maryland with her very spoiled Labrador Retriever-mix rescue pups and a ton of saltwater fish just tanking around. Lori’s family has fostered dogs for years, mostly Golden Retrievers, and knows no home is complete without an animal buddy (or seven)!