It’s like a crime scene for poop’: DNA used to link dog owners to their pets’ droppings
By Peter Holley April 7
They are the scourge of walkers everywhere: the lazy pet owners who refuse to clean up after their dogs.
Sometimes, the culprits are caught. But more often than not, they strike when nobody else is looking and make a clean getaway.
But the era of not picking up after your pooch may be coming to an end.
In apartment buildings and neighborhoods across the country, pet owners are being asked to register their dogs in a DNA testing program that allows homeowners associations and building managers to link dogs to their droppings.
BioPet Vet Lab, based in Knoxville, Tenn., says its “PooPrints” testing kits are being used in 1,000 buildings, neighborhoods and dog parks in the country.
[Rare canine flu outbreak hits Chicago, leaving five dogs dead, sickening more than 1,000 others]
Among the most popular locations for doggie DNA testing, according to PooPrints Business Development Director Eric Mayer, are large metro areas with lots of urban dwellers, such as Chicago, Seattle, Miami, Los Angeles, Denver and Dallas.
“We found that it’s a ubiquitous problem in property management,” Mayer told The Post. “If you talk to property managers, they will tell you their biggest complains come from the ‘two P’s’ — parking and poop.”
“Dog waste is also a health hazard,” he added. “It’s more than just a nuisance. It can get into soil and local drinking water systems through storm drains.”
In Seattle, for example, a study found that an estimated 125,000 dogs “dump 41,250 pounds of poop onto yards, sidewalks [and] parks” each day, according to the Seattle Times. Aside from being unsightly, the study found, dog waste is a principal source of contamination in local waterways.
[Decades of human waste have made Mount Everest a ‘fecal time bomb’]
The registration process begins when a new dog-owning tenant moves into a building, Mayer said. That’s when an inner-cheek swab is administered on the tenant’s pet to collect a unique DNA signature. The dog receives a registration number, and its information is added to the DNA World Pet Registry. When errant poo is spotted, property managers are asked to send a stool sample to a lab, where scientists attempt to match it to the offender.
The matching process takes 10 to 14 days, Mayer said. Some buildings directly fine the residents who own the dogs, and others add each offense to the tenant’s rent. The fines, Mayer said, can reach more than $100.
The company claims its statistics show that first-time offenders rarely re-offend.
[With fake service dogs on the rise, Canada proposes doggie ‘driving license’]
When PooPrints started five years ago, Mayer said, it was met with mixed reviews, with some people complaining that the service was intrusive. But several years later, Mayer said, most people have come around to the idea.
“We had one person who thought we would clone their dog, which is nearly impossible to do,” Mayer told The Post. “Some people thought it was an invasion of their dog’s privacy. We love our dogs, but they’re pets and not people.”
The DNA technology used by PooPrints is the same as the kind popularized by television shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” professor Michael Court told the Seattle Times.
“It’s like a crime scene for poop,” said Court, who specializes is pharmacogenomics at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “When you already have DNA from a dog, you’ve created a reference bank library.”
DNA technology and steep fines, Mayer said, compel most pet owners to shape up — but not all of them.
“In South Carolina, we ended up finding 18 poop samples in a row that belonged to the same person,” he said. “Right now, that person holds the record.”
MORE READING: A missing Ohio police dog who survived one of the coldest winters in history has been found
Alexandria shelter cares for dogs rescued from South Korean meat farm
Peter Holley is a general assignment reporter at The Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOT written by Louis Sheehan