Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Dog-Poo Not Allowed: The Case for DNA Tests

Jersey is apparently also considering DNA testing for dog mess, but perhaps should keep an eye on the pilot scheme in the UK for at least a year. Nevertheless, this could be the way to go.

“Keep your eyes open for dog mess if you are walking in the London borough of Barking & Dagenham. Do not tread on it. That mess is evidence. Soon someone will be along with a little sample pot to scoop up a thimbleful and take it off to the lab. And when, in several months’ or years’ time, the 18,000 dogs of the borough have all registered their DNA, the owner of the dog who left that mess will be brought to justice

“Next April, everyone in the UK will have to chip their dog. Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking & Dagenham council, says he hopes “to have a scheme going with local veterinarians where people can get the swab and chip done together”. The council plans to introduce a public space protection order (PSPO) to make DNA testing mandatory.” .” (The Guardian)

That story broke in early 2015. It is taken up this September by “Woof Advisor” who couldn’t resist the headline “They’re Barking mad – about Dog poo” for its story:

“Barking Park (Longbridge Road, Barking, Essex) is the kickoff point for a pilot scheme that will ultimately include all parks in the east London Borough of Barking & Dagenham.  The Council's plan is for a DNA Register to tackle dog faeces by tracing uncollected faeces back to their owner.”

“The plan is to identify and fine people £80 for not cleaning up after their dogs: this will be done by taking a sample of the offending faeces and matching it with the owner through the DNA database. To ensure owners register their Dogs on the database in the first place, owners will be banned from walking their pets in parks and other public spaces unless they are on the DNA registry.”

Fines cover the cost of testing, so the system is self-sustaining after the initial one-off DNA test. It is important to note that, because Constable Len Norman, discussing it, said that it might mean a £25 dog licence rather than a £5 one. As a DNA test for the database is a one off, there is no reason why the two components could be separated out, and the licence kept as £5, with the DNA database component charged separately and just the once.

After all, in the USA, the DNA database test is just a one-time fee of around $29.95.

What is interesting is that they have considered how to tackle the problem of offending owners who avoid signing up to the database. After all, research in Amsterdam showed that shows that fewer than half of the capital’s dog owners would comply with a voluntary dna register, and those would probably have been the people who do clean up after their dogs. But this has been considered and thought of:

“To address this problem, and to kick-start the campaign, local enforcement officers will check dog owners walking in the park to verify that they are registered on the database. If not, they issued a warning and told that they must sign up. If they continue to fail to comply, they will be face fines at a level well in excess of the proposed £80 dog faeces charge.”

Now of course there could be dog owners coming to the area from outside the borough, and the same would be true of Jersey, where visitors may bring over their dogs under the pet passport scheme from the UK. But if you think of the relatively small numbers involved, the chances are that those who persistently flout the law are those who live in an area, and walk their dogs there frequently.

The licence holders for the project are an American company called  StreetKleen. The company say that that said similar schemes in the US have resulted in a reduction in dog fouling by up to 90%.

According to the Daily Mail, the PooPrints DNA tests, which were created by BioPets, a Tennessee-based genetics company allow waste to be matched to the animals responsible and analyses 15 different gene variations along with a gender marker. It claims there is a one in four million chance of two dogs having the same genetic profile using this method.

After five years, says BioPet, the DNA test is in nearly 1,000 such places around the country, and it’s especially popular in Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and other large cities.

The Seattle Times reports on a DNA database complied for 26 apartment and condo complexes and homeowner associations in greater Seattle. People tend to let dogs mess close to where they live, and there Erin Atkinson, property manager at Potala Village Apartments, a 108-unit complex in downtown Everett said: “There was poop inside the elevators, in the carpeted hallways, up on the roof”.

Atkinson says that after some initial fines, DNA testing is working at her complex, with two dozen or so dogs: “One person was fined five times in one week,” she says. “That’s over $500. Now people clean up after their dogs.”

The Washington Post reported on some Midtown Alexandria Station condos where there was waste in the vestibule, in the elevator and in the garage beside handicapped parking, making life difficult for residents with physical challenges.

Joe Gillmer introduced DNA testing, and reported that “After the service was started a year ago, we only had to test one sample - only one! This in a building with 368 units and about 600 human and 60 canine residents. That’s the sort of success that law enforcement agencies can only dream of. Now, no one dares pooh-pooh the progress that has been made.”

At Midtown Alexandria Station, some residents balked at registering DNA samples, but a tenant who was found guilty had initially been supportive of the measure. A board member informed him: “The good news is that we used the test and it worked. We found the culprit. The bad news is that it’s your dog.” ” He readily paid the fine of $115 — $65 for the testing, $50 for the infraction.

Is it time for Jersey to consider this? I think they should review the UK and Welsh authorities introducing it, and learning from any problems they faced – by communicating directly with them – and then the time would be ripe to introduce it.

Training needs to be given as part of any package so that dog faeces can be collected properly, and be restricted to suitably authorised people. That’s not to say that there could not be licenced “dog wardens”, but the danger of opening it up to anyone is that it would be open to abuse by those wishing to settle neighbourhood disputes over dogs. After all, dog faeces within a person’s own property, if from their own dog, would not be illegal.

I do think that the initial one off cost should be staggered for those with more than one dog. Someone with two dogs, for example, will face an outlay of around £50 on top of the dog licence for that year. Four dogs, and you are talking of £100. That’s a big hit on the dog owner if needed to be paid all at once.

But the technology is there – reviewing the USA it is clearly having an effect. As dog owners particularly in urban areas tend to foul in their locality, perhaps a pilot scheme could be introduced in St Helier, as it is unlikely that people will usually walk their dogs through St Helier if they live in country Parishes. After all Barking and Dagenham said a pilot would be held before the regime is rolled out across the borough in September 2016.

Deputy Richard Rondel in 2012, told the States: “What I am particularly concerned about is the streets, which he does not obviously walk, is around the schools, such Rouge Bouillon, going up to Le Pouquelaye, and what really is concerning me is the health problems that could occur with young children walking into schools. I believe that there has been some situations where children do walk in and go into school with dogs’ mess on and it is a serious problem, and I think we have to address it.”

The advantage of looking to the UK is that they will have suitable legislation. The DNA testing, and also the link to direct penalty notices come under the perview of new legislation introduced in the United Kingdom, known as Public Space Protection Orders.

This is because some public areas in England and Wales are covered by Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) - previously called Dog Control Orders (DCOs).

In public areas with PSPOs, you may have to:

- keep your dog on a lead
- put your dog on a lead if told to by a police officer, police community support officer or someone from the council
- stop your dog going to certain places - like farmland or parts of a park
- limit the number of dogs you have with you (this applies to professional dog walkers too)
- clear up after your dog

There is no reason why Jersey could adopt similar legislation lightly adapted to our circumstances rather than re-invent the wheel. There has been some justifiable controversy over PSPOs in terms of how widely they can be drawn, but limiting the legislation to dog mess and litter would be eminently possible and a good start.


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