Across the globe, DNA testing for dog poop gaining traction
Are forensic dog-poop units the answer to cities' waste management problems? One lawmaker in eastern Germany certainly hopes so.
DNA testing has been used for everything from murder cases to paternity suits to researching family heritage. Now city councils around the world, from Germany to Israel, are becoming increasingly interested in using the method to solve an entirely different problem: tracking down dog owners who do not clean up after their pups.
Earlier this week, German lawmaker Peter Stein became the latest politician to call for DNA testing of dog poop in order to identify the canine culprit and fine owners for not picking up after their pooch.
Stein, a conservative Christian Democratic state parliamentarian in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, said that under his proposal, officials would test the feces and then match it up with the offending dog using a DNA database of all canines.
Currently, German dog owners are fined 30 to 40 euros (40 to 50 dollars) if they fail to clean up after their pets but very few people are ever caught. Only four fines were given out in Stein's hometown of Rostock last year, Stein told AFP. The city has 200,000 residents and 6,500 registered dogs.
"Just saying 'it wasn't my dog' will not wash any more," Stein said.
Each DNA test, according to Bild newspaper, would cost about 75 euros. However, adding each pooch to the DNA database would run another 200 euros. “The cost will naturally fall to the dog owners,” Stein said.
The sky is the limit
The idea of performing DNA tests on dog poop has been floating around for a while. In a 2005 New York Times article, the authors of the best-selling book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, proposed DNA testing to deal with the feces produced by New York City's dog population, which numbers about one million.
In September, the city of Petah Tikva in Israel began a six-month trial program to test the DNA of its local dog poop.
The suburb outside Tel Aviv asked its dog owners to take their pets to the veterinarian to be swabbed for DNA. From there, the city hopes to build an effective DNA database. As of early December, the DNA bank contained over 100 samples, officials told the New York Times.
To encourage its citizens to participate in the program, the city installed special trashcans in certain areas of the city. Officials then plan to test the poop placed in the cans and, when a specimen matches a dog in the DNA bank, the city will give the dog owner a reward – such as a pet food coupon or a dog toy.
"My goal is to get the residents involved and tell them that together, we can make our environment clean," Tika Bar-On, the city's chief veterinarian who came up with the idea for the experiment, told Reuters.
Bar-On also suggested that the DNA database could help veterinarians research genetic diseases in dogs and investigate pedigrees. The database could also eliminate the need for electronic chip identification when identifying stray dogs, says Bar-On: “The sky is the limit on how far we can take this."