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Fecal responsibility: Boulder looks at DNA testing to track down poop scofflaws

poopquestionBoulder City Councilwoman Mary Young wants to know how feasible it would be to require DNA samples from dogs, and create a registry so that, through DNA analysis, poop left on city trails could be traced to dog owners.

She’s not suggesting every dog in Boulder be tested (yet) — just the estimated 35,000 with so-called “green tags” that allow them to romp off-leash on some of the city’s trails and greenspaces.

Young has asked that the issue be discussed at tonight’s City Council meeting, the Boulder Daily Camera reports. (Yes, it happens to be an April Fools Day meeting, but nobody’s joking here.)

I would hope Boulder looks not just at whether it can be done (it can), but at whether it should be — that city leaders consider, in addition to the price tag of such a venture, the ethics and implications and utter goofiness of it.

There’s a lot of dog-related technology I don’t like (click the banner at the top of this page for one example) and poop-detection technology is near the top of the list.

Not just because of its Orwellian overtones, not just because it’s heavy-handed, dictatorial, silly, creepy, intrusive and expensive.  It’s also because technology, unleashed, has a habit of oozing beyond the boundaries of its originally intended purpose — DNA-testing of dog poop being just such a case — and spreading into ever scarier realms.

The day could still come when your tossed cigarette butt, un-recycled soda can or expectorated phlegm could be traced back to you, which, come to think of it, might be a better use of DNA technology than that being offered by the dog poop sleuths.

Declaring war on poop, and bringing out technology’s big guns, is overkill. Especially when the real solution can be achieved by simply bending over and picking up what your dog leaves behind.

In case you haven’t been following our posts on this issue, here’s how it works:

Deciding unscooped dog poop is simply intolerable, homeowners associations, apartment complexes or government entities sign up with a company called PooPrints, which sends them the supplies needed for residents to take swabs from the cheeks of their dogs. Those are sent to Tennessee, and a doggie DNA registry is created.

After that, any pile of poop that is found can be gathered, packaged and sent to a lab in Tennessee, where it can be unpackaged and tested and, by comparing DNA markers, matched to an individual dog, assuming that dog’s DNA is in the registry.

The company lets management know who the poopetrator was, and the owner is fined $100 or so — or, if a repeat offender, perhaps told they and/or their dog should move somewhere else. Thereby a community is made safe from scofflaws, as well as, say, a grandmother whose back might have been hurting too much one day to pick up every last dropping left by her Shih Tzu.

Here in my current home state, North Carolina, apartment complexes in Winston-Salem and Wilmington are among the growing number of property management companies and government entities turning to PooPrints.

Yes, dog poop can be hazardous to our health, and harmful to the environment.

So can the feces of all the non-domesticated animals we live among, but don’t feel compelled to prosecute for pooping.

danriversludgeSo, too, can the dumpage of corporate entities, like the thousands of tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River by Duke Energy, coating 70 miles of the river with toxic sludge.

That’s a little harder to pick up after, and, I’d suggest, at least as deserving of society’s consternation and oversight and vigilance as dog poop — even if punishing the culprit won’t make them change their ways. (Big companies, unlike the average dog owner, can hire lawyers to avoid fines, and, if unsuccessful, they just pass the costs along to their customers.)

Finding clean sources of energy — that’s a use of technology I like. Using DNA to solve murders  (and clear the wrongly convicted) seems a good use,  too.

But gathering, packaging and mailing dog poop so technicians in Tennessee can comb through it and test it, by comparison, seems a silly use of our technological muscles.

In Colorado, Boulder officials say dog waste on public trails is one of the most common complaints the city receives, so it’s not surprising that they’d turn to a company that claims to have the solution.

Eric Mayer, director of business development for BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tenn., said the company’s PooPrint service is used by private property management companies in 45 states and in Canada. Franchises are popping up all over, like Burger Kings.

So far, the company doesn’t have contracts with any municipalities, but officials have been in talks with a half dozen different local governments. He said he expects to sign the first municipal PooPrints contract with Ipswich, Mass., sometime this year.

Maybe, if poop detection continues to catch on, it would be good for the economy. Maybe, you too could have a fulfilling career as a dog poop laboratory technician.

But there are far better ways to spend our time and money, and far bigger problems more deserving of our rage. Between all the emotion, and all the technology, we seem to forget that we can simply …

Pick it up!

(Top photo, fake poop question mark, from Big Mouth Toys; bottom photo, sludge from the Dan River spill, courtesy of Dan River Basin Association)

Dallas sets rules for handling strays

Folks in Dallas may become a little less likely to befriend a stray dog in need in light of an ordinance passed by the City Council this week.

The council approved an ordinance Wednesday requiring anyone who takes possession of a stray dog to make a reasonable effort to find the dog’s owner, the Dallas Morning News reports.

The rule comes largely as a result of one persistent dog owner, Brad Kirby, who has lobbied City Hall since two of his huskies disappeared two years ago. Kirby found the person he suspected stole them, but police said little could be done because the man told authorities he’d encountered the dogs running loose and gave them away.

The ordinance gives a person who picks up a stray dog 72 hours to:

• Call the phone number listed on the dog’s tags;

• Take the dog to a licensed veterinarian to screen for a microchip, tattoo or other identification and to call the owner if one is identified;

• Call 311 to request that animal services pick up the dog; or

• Deliver the dog to the city’s animal shelter.

A violation – meaning failure to do any of those things — will be punishable by a fine up to $500.

The lone vote against the measure came from council member Vonciel Hill, a former city judge, who said she worries that someone trying to help a stray could end up in trouble.

“I think that this ordinance places an inordinate burden on any person who is trying to have some kindness toward a stray,” she said.

Maryland county votes down barking fines

Worcester County Commissioners voted down a bill that would have established fines for owners of barking dogs, leading at least one citizen who supported the measure to howl.

Jack Davis, a Bishopville resident, made barking noises as he left the commissioners Tuesday night meeting in Snow Hill — in an attempt to show just how annoying the sound can be, according to DelmarvaNow.com.

“It’s really rough when you retire and you want to sit on your porch and in your yard, and hear dogs barking all day long,” Davis said.

In a 4-3 vote, the commissioners nixed legislation that would have levied fines on dog owners for uncontrolled barking and howling in the Maryland county.

“At what point do you start legislating cats and frogs and everything else?” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.

Worcester County Animal Control would have been responsible for enforcement of the law,  charging owners with a civil infraction, and up to a $500 fine, if their dogs barked for more than an hour.

Of the half-dozen residents who spoke at a public hearing on the issue, all were in favor of the law.

Animal Control Officer Susan Rantz said the county commissioners would be better off looking at the county’s chained dog law. ”I don’t understand how a fine is going to stop the dogs from barking,” Rantz said. ”There are reasons the dogs bark, and I think it’s because they are on
chains.”

Still more ado about poo

In a episode nearly as ludicrous as the case of the soiled condominium, an English great-grandmother was threatened with a £50 fine for picking up the wrong dog’s poop.

Pam Robson was accused by Sunderland Council wardens of failing to clean up after Derik, her Labrador, in a field in Houghton-le-Spring in January.

The council said the 60-year-old had picked up droppings that emanated from a different dog, according to the BBC.

How they knew that, I’m not sure, for Sunderland is not one of those jurisdictions that are performing DNA analysis on dog poop — a step that has been proposed at a condominium right here in Baltimore.

The board of the Scarlett Place Condominiums on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is considering a proposal to create a DNA database of its canine residents, then sending offending feces to a lab in an effort to find out exactly who, among their residents, is allowing their dog to poop in its ritzy hallways, and not picking it up.

Yes, everyone should pick up their dog’s waste — but going to such forensic lengths, and fining people for not picking up the right pile, are the actions of obsessive, power hungry control freaks who need to find better causes.

In Robson’s case, she refused to pay the fine and was threatened with court action.

Robson said she had been talking to her daughter on her cell phone when her dog ran off and did it’s doody. Robson walked over, scooped up a pile, and then was approached by two men (because policing poopers is apparently too dangerous a job to do alone).

“He said it was the wrong mess and that he was going to issue me with a fine for £50,” Robson recalled. “I picked up the other mess too and put it in the bag but he said I’d still be fined.”

“It felt like the worst kind of bullying,” she said.

Sunderland City Council, after she complained and asked for a review, later wrote to Robson, saying: “Officers at the time were satisfied that an offence had been committed. However it appears you may have collected faeces belonging to another dog.” In light of that, the note said, the council would not be pursuing the fine.

Guilty verdict in the case of the lazy Brit

Paul Railton was fined and barred from driving for six months after taking his dog for a walk while sitting behind the wheel of his car.

Prosecutors said he was spotted by a cyclist driving slowly along a country lane in December, holding his dog’s leash through the car window as the animal trotted alongside.

Railton pleaded guilty Monday to not being in proper control of a vehicle, but told the court that “a lot of people exercise their dogs in that manner,” MSNBC reports.

His lawyer said Railton, 23, acknowledged “it was a silly thing to do and there was an element of laziness.”

Railton was ordered by magistrates in Consett, northeast England, to pay a fine of about $100. He also received three penalty points on his driver’s license, leading to him being barred from driving for six months.

Several British newspapers reported that Railton was involved in an attempted murder case last year (drive-by shooting?), but that the case was dismissed because of police misconduct.

Officer who left 2 dogs to die in car is fined

A police dog handler in the UK has been found guilty of animal cruelty for leaving two German shepherds to die in the back of his car on one of the hottest days of last year.

Mark Johnson, of the Nottinghamshire police, was given a six-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay a fine. The judge called it “an extremely difficult case” which reflected poorly on the force’s attitude to officers with mental health problems.

Prosecutors said the animals – Jay-Jay and Jet – died in “excruciating pain” after Johnson ­forgot he had not taken them out of his vehicle on June 30. The dogs died – possibly within 20 minutes of being left in the car– from heatstroke, The Guardian reported

Johnson, 39, said he was severely depressed and was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder when he left the dogs in the car. He said his illness had caused him to forget that the animals were still in the car as he sat down to do paperwork at Nottinghamshire police’s headquarters.

District judge Tim Devas described the dogs’ deaths as “sad and regrettable”, but criticized the police department for failing to help an officer struggling with depression.

“I feel a police officer has been let down … (T)his is a dreadful error of judgment brought about by an illness way before it happened and PC Johnson should have been given more help … I cannot believe that in the 21st century, depression and men crying is so abhorrent to an institution that nothing can be done about it,” he said.

An assistant chief constable of the Nottinghamshire police said dog handlers must now take their animals directly to kennels on arrival at work and that a system was being piloted alerting handlers to temperature changes inside vehicles.

Tickets all around in Chicago dog shooting

An off-duty Chicago police officer shot and killed a neighbor’s German shepherd Monday, claiming the dog was preparing to attack her.

The officer said she was walking her dog, described as pug, when the neighbor’s dog escaped from the backyard, attacked her dog and then threatened her.

When police arrived after the shooting, they issued a ticket to the owner of the dead dog for not having a license.

“Like killing my dog wasn’t enough?”  the neighbor, Laura Bravo, said.

The shooting happened as Bravo’s three children were heading to school. They let their dog, Malachi, out into the backyard, heard gunfire, and then saw the dog bleeding on the sidewalk.

After the Chicago Sun-Times inquired whether the officer had a license for her dog, the department checked and discovered she didn’t, a police spokesman said. The unidentified officer, a female who has been with the department about three years, was then issued one as well.

The tickets carry a fine of up to $500.