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Poo fighters: Detectives use doggie DNA to bust lazy owners

By Mark Miller

TACOMA, Wash. — The putrid odor is often the first indication. A glance at your shoe confirms it. You’ve just stepped on a landmine because a rude pet owner failed to scoop up the mess.

I see them let their dog crap wherever they want and just leave it there and walk away,” said apartment maintenance worker Timothy Johnston, who’s often left with the dirty job of cleaning up when residents don’t.

He asks a simple question: “Why are you lazy? Why don’t you pick up your own dog’s poop?”
A novel solution to the problem has emerged. A solution that relies on the same forensic science detectives use to solve homicides and other major crimes: DNA evidence.

A company called PooPrints claims its dog poop management service can dramatically reduce the number of stray piles at any apartment or condo complex.
“We have 300 units here at Monterra Apartment Homes,” said manager Roxane Loera. “We thought PooPrints might be an effective way to keep the grounds nicer for everyone.”

The PooPrints system requires all pet owners in the Tacoma complex to register their dog’s DNA by taking a swab from inside the animal’s cheek. Simple enough that a Monterra employee can perform the swabbing in just a few minutes.

Each pet’s DNA profile is kept on record. The detective work comes when somebody reports a violation — a pile of dog doo.

An apartment maintenance worker takes a small sample of the offender’ feces, puts it in a plastic container filled with special fluid, and sends it to the PooPrints lab.
The lab matches the DNA of the dog doo to the guilty pooch.

“You can deny it all you want. But at the end of the day it comes back it’s your pet, it’s your pet,” said Roxane. “I think it’s just another way to hold people accountable for what they signed up to do. Which is take care of their pets.”

Monterra Apartments pays the fee to have pets swabbed and entered into the PooPrints database. The cost ranges from between $30-40 a dog. Residents are asked to pick up the cost of anything beyond the first animal.
The fine for a violation is $200 dollars, which management believes is an effective deterrent.

A PooPrints representative says deterrence is the beauty of the service. He claims apartment and condo complexes report a 75-95% reduction in stray poop piles.

The Knoxville, TN company has been in business about three years and says it has nearly 900 clients nationwide. It’s relatively new to the Seattle-area market and has about thirty clients here, including Monterra in Tacoma.

Monterra residents we talked to who own dogs like the idea of using DNA testing to hold people accountable.
“I’m tired of picking up other dogs’ feces,” said Margaret Tippett, who owns two dogs. “$200 is a hefty fine. Maybe it’ll wake ’em up a little bit. I don’t know, time will tell. Time will tell.”

If you’re wondering whether dog poop is a problem worth discussing, consider this: waste disposal experts estimate dogs produce 10-million tons of doo doo a year in this country. That’s enough to fill a line of semi-trailers stretching from Seattle to Boston.

And an enormous volume of that nastiness is left behind by inconsiderate humans. Surveys show nearly half of all pet owners admit to seldom or never picking up their dog’s droppings.

Remember: don’t blame the dog, blame the dog’s owner.

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