Our Dog-Feces Dream Is Finally a Reality

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Yes, it sounds like a ridiculous idea, and you may have been among those who laughed, or worse, when we first proposed it: In order to keep a city’s streets clean of dog poop, require dog owners to submit DNA samples from their pets when they get licenses; then use that DNA database to trace any left-behind poop and send the dogs’ owners stiff fines.

Well, it took three years but the Israeli city of Petah Tikva has actually put this plan to work:

The city will use the DNA database it is building to match feces to a registered dog and identify its owner.

Owners who scoop up their dogs’ droppings and place them in specially marked bins on Petah Tikva’s streets will be eligible for rewards of pet food coupons and dog toys.

But droppings found underfoot in the street and matched through the DNA database to a registered pet could earn its owner a municipal fine.

It is interesting — and probably wise — that Petah Tikva has coupled the penalties with rewards. Clearly, their plan is a bit more thought-out than ours:

“My goal is to get the residents involved, and tell them that together, we can make our environment clean,” said Tika Bar-On, the city’s chief veterinarian who came up with the idea for the DNA experiment. Bar-On said the DNA database could also help veterinarians research genetic diseases in dogs, investigate canine pedigree, and identify stray animals, replacing the need for electronic chip identification.

As for me, a New York resident: well, I am still waiting, and not so patiently. It still astonishes me that the same person who will glare at someone for speaking loudly on a cell phone or for not putting a bottle in the right recycling bin will let his dog defecate in the middle of a grassy area in Central Park where kids play, and then do a minimal cleanup, if at all. Unless we can get the DNA plan rolling here, I may have to start agitating all-out for mandatory dog diapers.

(P.S.: I realize this is my second poop-related post in two days; I apologize, and promise to clean up my act.)

(Hat tip: Mat Davis, Sendhil Revuluri, several others)

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  1. Matt says:

    It’s not a stupid idea at all. What is stupid is the selfishness of many pet owners.

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  2. Raj Pandravada says:

    Maybe the city of Lee’s Summit, MO can take a leaf out of Petah Tikva’s book. They are planning to outlaw public urination.

    http://www.lsjournal.com/100/story/16660.html

    If these two trends intersect soon, we might have to pee in a cup to get a license or passport.

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  3. pelayocms says:

    Dog-poop has become a real problem in big cities like NY and most of Europe. I’m a dog hater and i find it discusting each time i step on dog waste. What the city of Petah has done to put a negative externality on dog defecation seems to be a good solution; if the cost of going thorugh the hassle of creating a database and analyzing each dropping, to then fine the owner is less than what has been gained. Clearly the governors of the israeli city do find a benefit in doing this.

    On Ny doing this, I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. Pursuing dog-diapers i think is a better idea because it will avoid any dog-pi in the streets.

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  4. David Chowes, New York City says:

    It’s fine with me. It utilizes B. F. Skinner’s theory of OPERANT CONDITIONING.

    It utilizes punishment for uncivil behavior; and, a

    reward for appropriate behavior.(Skinner called it

    reinforcement following desired responses.)

    However, I will not apply for the ‘checking position’ unless the reinforcement is far more than substantial.

    Shalom!

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  5. bob says:

    So, if my neighbour’s dog barks at night and keeps me awake, I’ll just steal some poop from their yard and drop it on the street so they get huge fines. I’ll do this about 3 times a week, and hopefully the neighbour eventually gets rid of the dog.

    Perfect.

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  6. Henry Abbott says:

    I can’t believe this level of sleuthing is being employed to ward off the international crisis of doggie poopie, but not to track down perpetrators of much more serious kinds of pollution. Surely, a system could be designed to trace that mercury in my fish to a coal plant in Ohio, or that dioxin in the Mississippi to some chemical plant.

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  7. Ron says:

    Are you really saying that we need a bigger government so we can teach people to be responsible? Are you going to fund the poop police yourself? While your at it how about picking up the tab for the cost of the DNA analysis? Can we store the poop at your house for the months and months it takes to go to court on these tickets? Oh wait maybe we should spend a few million dollars building a hazardous waste containment facility to hold it all. Come on people, a little common sense here please.

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  8. Justin says:

    It seems that they are replacing a moral disincentive with a monetary disincentive – as our bloggers know, this doesn’t always work.

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