Andy Bazoian never imagined his job would include dealing with dog poop. As a property manager for a downtown Toronto condominium building, Mr. Bazoian has witnessed his fair share of anonymous, abandoned piles – in the stairwells, the mail room, the parking garage and on the grass, all left behind for everyone and anyone to step in.
“We had one incident last week, in our mail room, which is right in the front lobby,” Mr. Bazoian said.
Property managers have long struggled with tracking down irresponsible pet owners. To curb the problem, some are turning to companies that catalog dog DNA and use stinky samples to identify delinquent dog owners.
Decades ago, expensive DNA tests were reserved for criminal cases and paternity tests. Today such tests – more often used for ancestry and health testing – have become so affordable that they are being used for relatively banal concerns.
Aside from the obvious ick factor, uncollected pet waste can pose serious health risks. According to the Canadian Public Health Association, pet poop is often carried away by spring runoffs or heavy rainfalls and ends up in rivers and lakes. It then affects water quality and can lead to infections such as E. coli and salmonellosis. It can also be harmful to other dogs, causing infections such as Giardia, a parasite that affects the gastrointestinal tract.
One company trying to combat this problem is PooPrints. It currently provides services to more than 3,300 properties in North America and Britain and came to Ontario in October. Mr. Bazoian’s building, Infinity III, was the first in the province to use the service, but now, more than 100 other buildings are preparing to follow suit.
The PooPrints program includes administering DNA cheek swabs from a kit provided by the company. The samples are sent to a lab in Knoxville, Tenn., and the information is entered into the DNA World Pet Registry (WPR). Residents are charged a one-time fee of $60 for the process.
If waste is left behind and found – ideally through visual means – it can be sent to the lab to match the DNA record at the WPR. Garry Bradamore, the managing director of PooPrints Canada, says the science is so accurate that the likelihood of misidentifying a dog ranges from one in a million to more than one in 60 sextillion.
Once the culprit is identified, the dog’s owner is required to pay the cost of testing and identifying the poop, along with any cleaning, legal, investigative, damage or administrative costs. All told, an offence can cost $150 to $350.
“The aim is not to create penalties or fines,” Mr. Bradamore said. “The aim is simply to create better pet-parent habits and respect for their property and neighbours.”
River City 2, a condo building in Toronto’s Corktown, just east of the downtown, recently introduced the program to solve a smelly situation. But some of its residents are slightly skeptical.
A recent post in a tenant Facebook group wondered who controls the database, how the information is being protected and monitored, who is doing the reporting and whether or not it is enforceable if a resident doesn’t want to participate.
Denise Lash, a condo lawyer who helps property managers introduce the program, says it is only enforceable once residents are registered – and it’s not set in stone. If there is enough opposition in a building, a minimum of 15 per cent of residents can call a meeting and vote against it.
As for privacy concerns, Mr. Bradamore says the company abides by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), the federal privacy law for private-sector organizations, which sets the ground rules for how businesses are required to handle such information.
Anna Oliver, a resident of the adjoining River City 1 and the proud owner of a black lab named Griffin, said she hasn’t yet received a notice to register her dog but has heard about the program in River City 2 and plans to participate if and when it comes to her building.
“The people who don’t respect the community make it bad for the people in the community who do,” she said. “If it’s going to deter even one or two, it’ll protect the value of the property.”
She said she once watched in disgust as a couple allowed their dog to do its business on the lawn without picking it up. She added that there are signs all over the property telling residents not to leave a mess behind, but they often go ignored.
Still, she said, the program might be difficult to execute. Both River City 1 and 2 are near multiple dog parks, so many people walking their dogs in the area are not residents and will not be registered. She also worries that the people who don’t pick up after their pets, even if they are residents, will probably refrain from registering to avoid being held accountable.
Representatives from River City did not respond when reached for comment.
About half the dogs in Mr. Bazoian’s building have been registered so far, but he said the problem started to improve even before the registration process began. Word spread that the program was coming, and that motivated residents to clean up their act – literally.
"I would tell them what our plan was, and months before we even implemented the program, there was a dramatic improvement,” he said.
No one in his building has been fined yet. But after the mail-room incident, he did send off a sample.
Now, only time – and DNA testing – may tell who will be required to pay up.