GALLATIN, MO (KCTV) -- You’ve probably heard about pit bull bans, but do you know exactly how they work?
KCTV5 News recently heard from a family who says their dogs were wrongly identified and then seized. They were told to get dog DNA tests to prove the animals were not pit bulls.
Police took photos of Gemma and Piper then they ran them through a dog facial recognition app and determined they were pit bulls.
“I was crying, I was hysterical. It was bad,” said Heather Claiborn, the dogs’ owner.
Claiborn wasn’t even home when police showed up in her yard after a neighbor complained about her dogs, again.
“I think they were tired for coming over here honestly,” Claiborn said.
Claiborn says police told her that the dogs were pit bulls based on how they looked. Claiborn says Gemma is a bull mastiff, and she isn’t sure about Piper.
The city of Gallatin banned both pit bulls and rottweilers in 2008. The law passed after a string of dog attacks in the area -- one was fatal. Today, those dogs and any dog which has the appearance and characteristics of those breeds are banned from the city.
The officer who showed up at Claiborn's home decided Gemma and Piper were pit bulls based on appearance and a dog facial and body recognition app.
“I ran across this app six months ago,” Police Chief Mark Richards said. “That’s a tool we use to verify what an officer’s suspicions are. It’s not a blood test or a DNA test but it does help us out in the field."
The dog scanner can take a picture of the dog, and the app predicts the breed.
Police ran Pipper through the system and she came back as a mixed-breed including the banned bull terriers. The app predicts Gemma is a pit bull too.
“I think it’s wrong,” Claiborn said. “How they can judge just by picture?”
KCTV5’s investigation team questioned the same thing. So, they ran other pictures of Gemma and Pipper.
Most of Piper’s photos consider her a pit bull, but in another photo, she switches breeds and becomes a miniature pinscher mix.
Gemma’s puppy photo predicts Great Dane. A more recent photo says she’s a Labrador. The day KCTV5 went to Gallatin they met Gemma’s puppies in the front yard. The app predicted the puppies were anything from border collies, pointers and box terriers. Claiborn doesn’t think any of those predictions are accurate.
“The puppy’s feet,” Claiborn said. “One has double dew claws in the back. Her vet thinks these they must have Great Pyrenees in them.”
The app never predicted that result. So, KCTV5 contacted Kai Lubke, the creator of the app, in Germany.
“It’s kind of weird for us because we’re sitting here in Germany and other countries are using our app which we built not for this usage” Kai said. “So it was quite surprising for us.”
Kai says his app is the best dog facial recognition tool out there, about 90% accurate, but it has its limits.
Kai doesn’t believe the app should be used in investigations where a dog’s home and life is literally on the line.
“The owner was given opportunities to verify they were not pit bulls,” said Richards.
Richards says he is required to enforce the city ordinance and gave the family months to prove the dogs were not pit bulls, and they could have gotten a dog DNA test.
Claiborn says that simply is not true.
“I’ve got this one and two others in diapers, a house payment and a light bill,” Claiborn said.
Richards says things have never reached this level in more than a decade.
“We try to do everything we can to not get to that point,” Richards said.
Most people find new homes for their dogs out of the town.
The ordinance gives the police chief power to destroy banned dogs. He didn’t do that. Instead, he spent months working with pit bull rescues to find Gemma and Piper new homes where they are allowed.
As part of KCTV5’s investigation team’s research, the pets around the station were scanned, and the app was fairly accurate.
The app, called Dog Scanner, is free in the app store.