In Ipswich, DNA testing sought to catch dog waste scofflaws
Calls for forensics to catch pickup law violators
IPSWICH — Matt Antczak is well known in this picture-perfect coastal community, even feared. And as he patrols downtown in his uniform, his face contorts regularly into disgust at what he sees again and again: dog waste.
Along the riverwalk, on the sidewalk, in playgrounds his eye is drawn to dog droppings, and his anger turns toward the humans who failed to pick them up. His zeal has generated some derision.
“I don’t care what they call me,” Antczak says as he stops to point out frozen dog waste in the gray snow in front of the Post Office. “It just means I’m doing my job. This is a beautiful town and it should be a clean town.”
Antczak is Ipswich’s animal control officer. He gives tickets for violations of the scoop law, but he’s frustrated by how much he misses. Now, he’s dreamed up a solution: Collecting DNA from every dog in town as a way to identify individual offenders.
Two women spot Antczak and approach with a wave of enthusiasm.
“Get the DNA!” one of them says.
“You’re doing a good thing,” the other cheers.
Antczak is trying to convince the town’s Board of Selectmen to spend about $80,000 to hire a company named PooPrints to create a DNA database of Ipswich’s 2,000 dogs so the town can then test stool samples against the database and fine those who do not pick up after their pets.
The technology, which has been around for a few years, is most often employed by housing complexes — it’s used at a 398-unit condominium development in Braintree — but Antczak wants Ipswich to be the first municipality in the state to make the DNA test a requirement of dog licensing.
The idea, like Antczak’s 10-year-tenure as Ipswich’s animal control officer, is not without controversy.
“He’s a little rabid. That’s the best way to put it,” said one Ipswich dog owner who is so frightened of Antczak’s wrath that she refused to give her name, or her dog’s name. “People are terrified of him. Boy, does he take his role seriously. If he sees you with a dog, he’ll demand you show him your poop bags, and if you refuse he’ll call the cruisers.”
Antczak said he wrote only one ticket last year for not having a bag — “It depends on your attitude when I ask for it,” he said — but what really bothers him is that he wrote only four $50 tickets for violating the town’s scooper law. That’s because to fine someone, he has to catch them in the act.
He has certainly tried to nab people; he has gone so far as to do stakeouts in his family’s van, which he says drives his wife nuts. But short of being everywhere at once, Antczak said, his only way to enforce the law is with the help of modern forensics.
The way it would work is each dog would have its cheek swabbed, then that swab would be processed to create a DNA database that Antczak could then test feces samples against. It would cost the town $34.95 for each dog, plus another $75 for the waste sample kit and processing each time feces is sent for testing. But Antczak believes the program can pay for itself and then some by charging law-breakers $200 for violations.
He said he first had the idea to pursue DNA testing after watching a young boy dealing with dog feces while trying to build a sandcastle at Pavilion Beach, and he has broached the idea with the town’s selectmen several times in the past. But his plan gathered some steam recently when the Salem News reported that at least one selectman was willing to entertain a proposal on the DNA testing.
There are other issues of tension between dog owners and the town, namely the fact dogs are barred from public parks and there is no dog park in town. This is a problem that he said needs fixing, because in warmer months, when dogs are no longer allowed on town beaches, owners are left without a place to let their dogs run. Because of this, Antczak said there are places he’s willing to turn the other way as long as owners pick up after their dogs. But, he said, they don’t.
As he took a reporter for a tour of the problem, stopping repeatedly to point out the window at brown piles, he parked in front of a playground that had a “No dogs allowed” sign surrounded by hundreds of paw prints in the snow.
“Would you want your child playing near all that feces?” he asked.
Many say the town simply has more important things to spend its money on. Others raise “Big Brother” concerns about genetic privacy. If the town starts testing the DNA of all canines, a few dog owners have asked, what’s to stop them from testing the DNA of humans so they can, say, fine them for littering.
When presented this philosophical question, Antczak did not hesitate.
“I hate litter,” he said.