WESTFORD — Property managers at two housing developments north of Boston are joining a growing trend and getting tough with residents who don’t clean up after their dogs by using “CSI”-style techniques to track down the culprits and fine them.
Dog owners at the upscale Abbot Mill apartment complex in Westford must agree to provide a DNA sample from their pets before they move into the newly renovated historic woolen mill. The samples are stored in a forensic database that can be used to determine which dogs are leaving waste behind. Owners pay for the DNA tests, which run about $50; fines for violations begin at $100.
“Most people get a chuckle out of it,” said Joan Hand, of Barkan Management, which oversees the 131-unit complex. “We haven’t really had any resistance from residents. Most pet owners are responsible and understand that it only takes one or two consistent violators. It has worked well as a deterrent.”
Abbot Mill, which has about 30 dogs in residence, is one of an increasing number of housing developments across the state and country employing the same technology used in crime-scene investigations and paternity tests as a tool to enforce dog waste-scooping policies that property managers say are violated with impunity.
In Haverhill, errant dog owners at the Katherine Heights condominium complex have been leaving droppings on sidewalks and lawns, so the community’s board of trustees plan to collect DNA to catch the offenders.
“We’ve had too many complaints from our residents and we really had to do something,” said board member Diane Murad, who has lived in the 50-unit complex for more than 25 years. “At one point, the mail man even threatened to stop delivering mail. We know who’s doing it, but we haven’t been able to prove it.”
The board approved the new canine policy last year and recently contracted with Nashua-based Dog DNA Today LLC to collect and store samples from about 25 dogs that reside in the development. Pet owners will have to pay $30 to process a DNA sample from their dogs. There will be a $500 penalty for not registering a dog’s DNA.
So far, Murad said, there hasn’t been a major backlash over the new policy.
“I expect there will be mixed feelings,” she said. “The people who complained are going to be happy that we’re doing something, but the others, well, not so much.”
Condominium complexes in Braintree and Watertown have also adopted the DNA policy.
Deb Logan, owner of Dog DNA, is a property manager at the dog-friendly 375-unit Twin Ponds Development rental community in Nashua. She discovered DNA testing out of frustration to solve the messy problem of dog owners leaving piles of waste in her own community, which has more than 450 canines.
“We tried every angle to solve the problem,” Logan said. “I actually offered rewards to people to catch the offenders on film. The problem is that we had laws against it, but there was no way to enforce them. DNA testing changed that.’’
When Twin Ponds imposed the policy about three years ago, she and other community leaders expected a revolt by dog owners. But only a few residents objected, she said.
“We honestly thought we would get a lot of flak about it,” Logan said. “But there was only a few people who got upset about it. Most people were excited.”
Dog owners submit a DNA sample, obtained by a quick swab inside the animal’s cheek, when they move into the community. The results are kept on file and then checked against DNA from waste left on the grounds. If there’s a match, the owner pays for the $50 lab test and gets a $100 fine. Owners who rack up multiple violations can be forced to remove the dog.
In some cases, just the threat of hefty fines was enough to get recalcitrant dog owners to clean up their acts. But the system also has caught dozens of violators and vastly improved the community’s appearance.
In fact, it worked so well Logan decided to become a regional distributor for PooPrints, whose parent company, BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tenn., invented the dog DNA testing system. She has clients in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and other states, Logan said.
PooPrints spokesman Eric Mayer said many residential communities are struggling to provide a welcoming environment to pet owners while dealing with a few irresponsible owners who turn shared community space into a biohazard site, “endangering the health and safety of the neighborhood.”
In addition to being a nuisance, dog waste is also a health hazard. It is loaded with fecal coliform, parasites, and other organisms that get washed into ground water, health officials say. The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies dog waste as a pollutant, and cities have required people to pick up after their dogs since the first pooper-scooper law took effect in New York City in 1978.
“If you don’t pick it up today, you’ll drink it tomorrow,” Mayer said. “Down the drain means it’s going into your lakes, rivers, and streams.”
Mayer said the company’s dog waste management system was created by a scientist at BioPet’s labs who, as the story goes, got tired of stepping in waste at her apartment complex and wanted to figure out a way to prove which pets — and their owners — were responsible. The company now operates in 38 states, as well as Canada, Israel, and Singapore, he said, and is even getting interest from municipal governments.
Brad Larsen, who lives at Abbot Mills with his 7-year-old terrier, Punk, admits that he was somewhat skeptical about the DNA testing when he moved into his loft-style apartment last year, but now thinks it’s a good idea. “It’s a good incentive to keep the place clean and it seems to be working,” he said.
“People think twice about not picking up after their dogs if they know there’s a good chance they can get caught.”
Still, there are skeptics, like Rollf Rupprecht, who moved into Abbot Mills with his family a few months ago.
He finds the whole thing kind of silly.
“I’m not a pet owner but it seems to me this is just common sense,” said the 53-year-old New Jersey native. “If you own a dog, you should pick up after it.”
Christian M. Wade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.