DNA nails owners who don't clean up after pets

CONWAY, Mass Wed Jul 6, 2011 7:16pm EDT

CONWAY, Mass (Reuters Life!) - Some U.S. pet owners who failed to clean up after their dogs got a nasty surprise from apartment complex manager Deb Logan.

Using DNA evidence, Logan started fining the irresponsible dog owners $100 per offense.

Logan, property manager at Twin Ponds in Nashua, New Hampshire, started using a dog DNA-testing system to reveal which pooches were leaving feces scattered about outside.

Logan says the DNA technology called "PooPrints", developed by BioPet Vet Labs of Knoxville, Tennessee, is working "amazingly" well for Twin Ponds, a 339-unit complex that is home to about 241 dogs.

"And for a property manager to not have to guess who the violator is, is absolutely wonderful," she told Reuters in a phone interview.

Dog-friendly Twin Ponds is BioPet's largest client using PooPrints to solve the mystery of who left the offending mound.

Using doggie DNA to solve the puzzle which dog left the feces is becoming increasingly popular in apartment complexes nationwide from Jupiter, Florida to Rockville Center, New York, where violators are fine up to $1,000 per steaming pile.

At Twin Ponds, all tenants with a dog now must use a PooPrints pet DNA sampling kit when they move in. To set up a profile, owners come to Logan's office, swab their dogs' cheeks for a saliva sample, and Twin Ponds then sends that to BioPet, which creates a reference database that includes all the community's canines.

When a canine deposit is left on the communal grounds, Twin Ponds mails BioPet a sample of feces to be matched to a dog through DNA. BioPet claims its testing has a 99.9 percent accuracy rate.

DNA is the individual biological coding that makes each creature unique.

"It's really not a Big Brother-type thing, and we don't test a lot of feces," said BioPet president Jim Simpson.

"So the program is doing what we want it to do and what the property manager wants it to do - simply to encourage folks to clean up after their dogs, so they don't have to have employees and services out there doing it," he said.

Simpson and Logan both believe the majority of pet owners are responsible people who dutifully clean up dog droppings.

But complaints about dog waste nationally have been piling up in recent years.

An average dog leaves behind 276 pounds of feces a year, according to the PooPrints web site. And there are about 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States.

The problem of dog excrement hit No. 6 on the list of America's top gripes last year, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.

Experts say serious health and environmental concerns go along with unscooped pet waste.

Even though livestock account for the vast majority of animal waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dogs are significant contributors to source water contamination. Probably the greatest human health concern linked with animal waste is harmful pathogens like Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, Giardia lamblia and E. coli, the EPA says.

So far this year at Twin Ponds, Logan has issued about 20 fines to residents for failing to clean up after their dogs. If a resident refuses to pay, she begins eviction proceedings the following month.

(Reporting by Zach Howard; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)

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