Barking council tests dog poo DNA to trace irresponsible owners

Sarah Coles

Irresponsible dog owners of Barking and Dagenham beware. The council has come up with an unusual way to track down owners who don't pick up after their dog in the street: they are DNA testing the poo.

The borough is running a pilot scheme for the next three months. It is asking responsible dog owners to sign up to the scheme and register their dogs with specialist dog poo testers PooPrints. The first 1,000 of them will have the dog DNA taken and registered for free.

Council officers and park rangers will then take samples of dog poo that haven't been cleared up and send them to PooPrints to compare the DNA to the dogs on its database. They aim to see whether there will be any matches - or whether the dog mess is largely due to irresponsible dog owners. If there are any matches, it won't be sending fines, but will send people letters to warn them that they will face a fine if it happens again.
Can it work?

Critics have already pointed out that there's every chance that the vast majority of people who don't bother cleaning up after their dog won't bother registering their dog's DNA voluntarily either.

However, Councillor Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, said: "This scheme, which is in response to concerns raised by our residents, is about bringing considerate owners on board with us now, enabling us to gather evidence so we can get tough on inconsiderate owners later."

There is the possibility of insisting that all council residents have their dogs DNA tested in future - possibly when their dogs are chipped (which is compulsory for all dogs from April). Alternatively DNA testing could be enforced against problem dogs - under the Antisocial Behaviour and Policing Act of 2014 - so that future fouling could be traced back to these dogs.

Gary Downie, Managing Director of PooPrints UK, said: "Dog DNA registration has been proven in other countries to reduce uncollected dog waste by up to 95% and ensure dog owners who do clean up after their pets are not tarred with the same brush by the actions of those dog owners not playing by the rules."

Unusual approaches

It's not the only council to be searching for a solution to the problem of dog mess. Dogs are thought to generate 1,000 tonnes of poo a day - much of which gets left on the street. Cash-strapped councils are sick of paying to clean it up, so have been searching for alternatives.

From December last year Daventry Council introduced rules that mean dog walkers must carry a poo bag (or another means of clearing up after their pet) when they are walking the dog - or face a fine of £100. It allowed a month for the rules to bed in, and started issuing fines at the beginning of this month.

It wasn't the first approach the council had tried, as it experimented with getting volunteers to spray-paint dog mess in bright colours to shock owners into cleaning up after their dog.

East Devon District Council tried the same approach, while Boston in Lincolnshire, posted small flags in discarded waste - warning of potential £75 fines.

Other councils, including Rhondda Cynon Taf, add dog fouling to the list of things they ask enforcement officers to look out for - along with littering and fly tipping. People are handed fines of £75 on the spot if they are found not to have scooped up after their dog.

One of the more extreme options discussed by Axbridge council in Somerset was hiring a private detective to track down the dog owners responsible - although this may have been an indication of how fed up the councillors were of discussing the issue.

In the Spanish town of Brunette, councillors hit on an even more hard-hitting approach. Volunteers patrolled the streets for irresponsible dog owners who left poo behind They then approached the owners and casually asked the name of the dog, and collected the poo.

Armed with the name and the breed, the council was able to track down the dog on a register of owners at the town hall, and the poo was delivered to their home address. There were 147 deliveries in the week the trial was carried out - and a 70% reduction in dog mess.

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