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Kim Palmer, McClatchy Tribune , Published December 07 2011

Detecting a dog’s ‘Poo Print’: Landlords nabbing owners who fail to pick up after pets

MINNEAPOLIS - Pet owners who fail to pick up after their pets can no longer stay under the radar at some Minnesota apartment complexes. Their landlords are scooping up the evidence and sending it to a lab for DNA testing to determine which dog did it.

No, it’s not a far-fetched “CSI” episode - just a new biotech solution to a perennial nuisance at rental communities. Instead of putting up with poop, property managers can require their pet-owning tenants to provide a DNA sample that’s added to a database and used to identify offending pets and their owners. The result: Formerly anonymous dog droppings now can be traced directly to Joe Blow’s beagle in Unit 215.

JJS Property Management of St. Cloud, which oversees 25 properties, recently implemented the new PooPrint program at its three “dog-friendly” locations.

“The reason we started was unresponsible owners who chose not to pick up,” said Jennifer Ulmer, property supervisor. “Obviously, it’s an eyesore, and a health and safety risk. Our goal was not to ‘catch’ people but to make sure we’re maintaining our buildings.”

And so far, it appears to be working. The company has seen a decline in dog-doo complaints since it started IDing the perpetrators - and fining their lax owners on a sliding scale, depending on whether it’s a first, second or third offense. (Ulmer declined to reveal the fine amounts.)

All of JJS’ animal tenants - about 120 - are now registered in the program, she said. “We are serious about it; we do send it in. We’ve sent in maybe 20 samples, and we haven’t had a second offense. Messes are almost obsolete now. It’s a huge deterrent.”

That’s been the case at other complexes, where the threat of being outed and fined gives pet owners a big incentive to clean up their act, according to Jim Simpson, president of BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tenn., which introduced PooPrint earlier this year. “Once the program is in place, we test very little feces.”

To implement the program, apartment building managers ask tenants to collect the initial DNA sample from their own dog, using a cheek-swab collection kit. The sample is analyzed by BioPet to create a genetic profile for each dog, which is then uploaded to a database for that rental property.

BioPet introduced PooPrint on the East Coast this year, then expanded its efforts to the Midwest; the program is currently being used by several apartment complexes in Minnesota, Simpson said.

When tenant Kim Hammett was notified that her building, Creek Point Apartments in St. Paul, was going to start using PooPrint, she said, “I thought it was a good idea.” Asked if it’s made her more careful about picking up after Ruger, her pit bull, she said she’s always done so. But she has noticed fewer dog droppings on the grounds in recent weeks. “Since they did it, it’s been a lot cleaner.”

Tammie Schweiker, another Creek Point tenant, said she had no objection to providing DNA from her golden retriever, Maynard. “I don’t mind - if it’s going to help me not stepping on someone else’s mess.”

Tenants in buildings managed by JJS also have responded favorably to the DNA registry, which is outlined when they first sign a lease, Ulmer said. “No one has chosen not to rent because of it.”

Harsh Minnesota winters shouldn’t get in the way of enforcement, according to Simpson. “We haven’t done any studies, but if it’s been frozen for maybe a week, there should still be DNA.”

However, if the excrement has spent two or three months under a blanket of snow, it’s probably not going to be identifiable, he said. “Melting snow would probably wash off the cells that carry DNA.”

Regardless of the weather, poop profiling will continue at JJS properties, according to Ulmer. “We intend to keep doing it,” she said. “Now if we could only stop pet owners from having bad things happen in their apartments.”