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Freakonomics in the Times Magazine: Dog-Waste Management

The October 2, 2005, Freakonomics column appeared in the annual New York City issue of the New York Times Magazine. In keeping with the Freakonomic tenet that few topics are too trivial for dissection, Dubner and Levitt turn their attention to the essential New York City issue of dog poop. Click here to read the column. This blog post supplies additional research material.

  1. The Previous Poop Problem: A century ago, the biggest sanitation problem in New York City was horse manure. The sheer volume of horse waste (each horse produced 25 pounds of manure and several quarts of urine a day) makes our current dog poop problem pale in comparison. David Rosner, director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University, explains here how the city’s horse-driven infrastructure contributed to a health crisis. The Environmental Literacy Council also offers an excellent exploration of the horse and the urban environment.
  2. Pooper Scooper Laws and Poop Pick-Up Alternatives: New York City law requires that dogs be licensed (here is the application form) and cleaned up after (1978’s famous Pooper Scooper law). But there are alternatives to picking up dog poop on the street: the Doggie Diaper, for instance, or a Purina dog litter called Secondnature. (Given the thrust of the Freakonomics column, it is at the very least a very weird accident that the word “Secondnature” has at its center the acronym “dna.”)
  3. Dogs as Guns: The column suggests that, just as unlicensed guns are frequently responsible for gun crime, unlicensed dogs are frequently responsible for abandoned dog waste. Furthermore, it has proven far more effective to punish not the ownership of legal objects but the illegal use of said objects. Here is Levitt’s academic paper addressing mandatory sentencing for gun crimes.
  4. Other Uses of Doggie DNA: The Philip Stroud murder trial in Indiana resulted in a conviction, largely due to dog DNA evidence, and uses of animal DNA are being explored further at U.C. Davis’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.
  5. Dog Poop Abroad: Click here to listen to an NPR piece on dog DNA in Vienna and here to read about a Korean woman made infamous for her refusal to clean up after her pet.
  6. A Precocious Poop-Fighter: Before Dubner and Levitt began ruminating on the genetic solution to poop problems, a 12-year-old resident of Hoboken, N.J., Lauren Mecka, was proposing the solution to her local city council. You can read her speech here and, if you have Windows Media Player, watch her make it here.