Dog waste on city streets is more than a smelly inconvenience. It’s unsanitary, a hopscotch game for children and adults, extra work for cleaning crews, and in the words of one Spanish mayor, on a par with vandalism.
Like vandalism, the fines for not picking up after your dog are high, as high as 500 euros ($560) in some cities. Yet the challenge for authorities is to catch the culprit in the act — and that would be the dog owner, not the dog.
Success in curbing dog owners’ lack of civic-mindedness has been limited, however, even when creativity has not. One village outside Madrid contracted an ad agency to make a public information video (above) including motorized poo as a way to humour dog owners into doing their duty. When the results didn’t last, the town started mailing the offending waste to the owners after volunteers chatted them up at the local park and got the name and breed of their dog, which was then matched to the pet registry. After a 147 deliveries, dog waste incidents dropped 70 percent. Others town have published the names of offenders in an attempt to shame them.
But more and more cities are simply resorting to science and letting DNA analysis do the work. Tarragona is the latest town in Spain to sign on, announcing last week that it plans to build a DNA database of all the 2,800 dogs registered. Waste will then be tested and the cost of the analysis charged to the dog owner, along with a fine.
With its hotter climate and lower rainfall, Spain has a particular incentive to get animal feces off the streets. But DNA analysis is picking up pace all over. Even Naples, which has sometimes struggled to keep human garbage in check, introduced a DNA dog database last year. It’s a serious undertaking with an estimated 80,000 dogs in the city, but as word got out the problem started to diminish even before tests began.
On a smaller scale, apartment complexes and gated communities are also putting DNA to good use, when appeals to courtesy fail. According to BioPet, a Tennessee company that makes the “PooPrints” DNA kits, more than a thousand apartment buildings around the United States have started using them since the kits came on the market four years ago. Come September, PooPrints will be introducing a district-wide program taking on the London borough of Barking and Dagenham as its first customer.
New York City is going a different route, mulling a proposal to turn poop into power through anaerobic digesters in its city parks. The idea is that dog owners would drop waste into the digester which then generates enough energy to run park equipment and lamps. Called “Sparky Power”, it’s the brainchild of Ron Gonen, the city’s former head of recycling.
The Big Apple has one of the largest concentrations of hounds in the country at 600,000 and counting — an ideal testing ground, in theory. But if it’s a challenge to get owners to pick up poop in the first place, what incentive will they have to go the extra mile for “Sparky”?