Asheville entrepreneur JJ Apodaca wants to help dogs have the healthiest, happiest lives possible.
To that end, he and business partner Brett Petrusek have launched What’s Your Mutt (whatsyourmuttdna.com) a new online business built around genetic testing for dogs. Genetic testing can be great first step in answering some basic questions about your dog, says Apodaca.
“We can make a difference in an animals lives through genetic testing, just like how people are understanding their health and ancestry better,” he adds. “It gives the dog a voice.”
Aside from determining your dog’s breed group, a doggie DNA test can identify about 70 health traits, Apodaca says, such as whether the dog might be prone to hip dysplasia or certain eye issues. The test can also point to about 15 or 20 traits having to do with behavior and morphology, he says. People can start to understand behaviors like a dog’s propensity for stranger-induced biting, or whether it will be anxious while alone. The tests can also help people understand a dog’s genetic disposition for whether they’ll fetch, or if they are herders, Apodaca says.
The rise of pet DNA testing is mirroring the popularity of genetic testing for humans, which has exploded in recent years with services like 23andMe and Ancestry for humans and Embark and Wisdom for dogs. With a couple swabs of a cheek, detailed results are available for a $199 test with What’s Your Mutt. Canine DNA testing for certain conditions and purposes goes back more than 20 years, but the industry took off after scientists mapped a full set of dog genes and published the results in 2005, reports CBS News.
Apodaca says his service differentiates itself through its unique tests that get at the underlying “signal” of a genetic trait, and his expertise at analyzing an interpreting the raw data.
“We want to help give dogs their best life. In my opinion, it’s not a curiosity thing – it’s that genetic information helps create a long and healthy life” for a pet, he says.
Genetic data has long fascinated Apodaca. For the past two decades or so, he has focused his attention on using that information to protect rare and endangered species.
With a doctorate degree in evolutionary and conservation biology from the University of Alabama, he has applied his curiosity to the study of amphibian and reptile conservancy, and to biodiversity and conservation management through his work as consultant, lead scientist and founder of Tangled Bank Conservation. He is also associate executive director and director of science at The Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy. Apodaca is a former professor of conservation biology at Warren Wilson College.
Aside from focusing on the nuts and bolts of getting What’s Your Mutt off the ground, Apodaca says he plans to start working with Asheville-area animal shelters and offer them doggie DNA tests, as well. Shelters armed with more information about their animals can find better homes for them, he says.
“It’s a way to find to make a better life for the dog, to help find a better fit for a home, and once they have a home, find what’s going to make them the most happy and the most healthy,” Apodaca says.