“C” is for “Canine” in this CSI.
The scene: dog droppings left on the lawn or in a hallway. The investigation: DNA testing of the feces to identify the four-legged author of the befoulment, thus leading to a fine for the two-legged master.
Such a canine scene investigation might sound like a spoof, but it's real. To persuade people to pick up after their pets, apartment and condominium managers across the nation — and now in Omaha — are turning to a technology more commonly known for nailing murderers, clearing the wrongly accused and determining paternity.
The owner of Southwest Gables, 90th and Q Streets, has contracted for a Tennessee-based service, PooPrints, to create a database of resident dogs' DNA, test offending defecations and look for matches.
Managers hope the mere prospect of being caught and fined will persuade pet owners to do their duty and clean up Rover's No. 2 in the first place. But if they don't, and they're caught, the slackers will have to pay a fine, cleanup costs and the DNA test expenses.
“It's important to us,” said Kim McIntosh, on-site property manager at Southwest Gables. “We want our residents to have a clean, sanitary place to have their dogs outside, and for themselves.”
PooPrints is a division of BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tenn. BioPet had been doing DNA tests for breed identification and puppy parentage for two years when it launched the PooPrints service in 2010.
The way the business is growing, it's like alchemy — turning dog droppings into gold. PooPrints now has clients in 32 states, and in Canada, Israel and Singapore, said Eric Mayer, director of business development at BioPet Vet Lab. They include homeowners' associations and planned subdivisions as well as apartment and condo managers.
The company's even working on city governments, most recently trying to convince the Dallas City Council to create a citywide dog DNA registry.
Closer to home, PooPrints hasn't yet cracked the Iowa market.
In Nebraska, Southwest Gables is the first apartment complex to do the doo-doo DNA program. It is owned by the Minnesota-based Stuart Co., one of several firms with Twin Cities rental properties that contract with PooPrints.
“One of their properties in Minnesota was having a lot of problems,” McIntosh said. “They started this seven or eight months ago, and it's been very successful.”
So Stuart decided to apply it in Omaha at Southwest Gables, which one can tell is a pet-friendly complex simply by strolling through it.
Three-story buildings with balconies surround a tidy courtyard that contains a swimming pool and an outdoor tennis court. Fido has exercise facilities, too. Dogs have a little room to run off-leash in the complex's Pooch Park, a 35-by-10-foot fenced area of grass and trees that's beyond the complex's internal street.
There is a dog-waste bag dispenser, with accompanying trash can, inside Pooch Park. Five more dispensers/trash cans are in neatly landscaped spots on a nearby grassy slope.
McIntosh said most dog owners clean up most of the time. But when someone doesn't, she said, “It's just nasty. No one wants to step in poo and get it all over their shoes.”
To some degree, as homeowners with dogs can appreciate, the problem at an apartment complex is seasonal.
“When winter rolls around is when we'll see that they're not always making it across the street to where the pet stations are,” McIntosh said.
In recent weeks, she and her staff have been swabbing the cheeks of each dog that lives at Southwest Gables.
They're sending the swabs to PooPrints for storage in its DNA registry. There's an accompanying roster of canine mug shots.
Later, when stray droppings are found, apartment staff will use a PooPrints kit to collect a sample. They then mail it off to the lab in Tennessee.
If there's a match, the dog owner will be fined $25 plus the DNA testing cost (currently $50) and any cleanup expense, McIntosh said.
Residents have reacted positively, she said.
Tenants recently received notices on their doors alerting them to the new policy. Dog owners had until Dec. 1 to produce their pooches for swabbing. If they refuse, they can't live there.
“I thought it was a little odd at first,” Marisa Tomlinson said. “But then the more I thought about it, I kind of liked it. I often have to walk my dog in the dark. I would really hate to step on something in the dark.”
She said she and her 11-year-old son pick up after Zipper, the black lab-husky mix they adopted from the Nebraska Humane Society. So she's not worried about the potential fine.
“If it's going to keep our place cleaner, I'm all for it,” Tomlinson said. “You just wish that people would be responsible enough that it wouldn't have to get to this point.”
Southwest Gables is paying the $30-per-dog cost of the initial DNA test. The only expense a resident would incur would be for a violation.
That appears unlikely, if PooPrints' claims about its track record elsewhere are true and the pattern holds.
The mere threat of a fine appears to shape up scofflaws. It's “exceedingly rare” that a property manager actually sends in a sample of dog waste, Mayer said, because they don't find much.
“When most properties put the program in place,” he said, “they see a reduction of 75 to 100 percent.”
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