In war on pet poop, community associations turn to DNA testing

How to handle pet poop is becoming a growing problem for community associations.

Owners are always required to pick up after their dog, and many associations actually provide free “poop bags” to assist in this cleanup. But not everyone complies with the rules. There are reports of owners who pretend to use the waste bags, especially when others are watching. I know of one Maryland association where an owner slipped on some waste and broke his leg.

A New Jersey association has adopted a novel approach: As of Nov. 1, all dog owners in the Grande at Riverdale condominium must have their pet’s DNA registered, or face a $100 fine. The dog’s mouth will be swabbed for DNA, and waste found on common grounds will be tested to determine the owner. The fine for not picking up the waste will be $250 for the first offense and can go as high as $1,000 for subsequent violations.

If an association’s legal documents permit pets, the board of directors has the authority to enact reasonable enforcement rules. Typically, those rules would require that all dogs be leashed while on common grounds, be registered with the association management and be vaccinated annually, pursuant to applicable local law.

The Riverdale condominium — composed of eight four-story buildings — has taken science to a new level. And other associations have adopted similar rules. In the Devon Wood condominium in Braintree, Mass., the board adopted a DNA rule. According to its general property manager, the common grounds have been much cleaner since the rule went into effect; apparently, no one wants to be fined.

DNA testing for dogs is not new. The American Kennel Club (AKC) said that it collected more than 600,000 DNA profiles in its database through Dec. 1, 2012. The top breeds are Labrador retriever, Yorkshire terrier, dachshund and poodles. Why collect DNA? “DNA offers the AKC the possibility of ensuring the accuracy of the registry in a way never before possible,” according to its Web site. However, it cautions that “DNA profiling is for parentage verification and genetic identity purposes only. It does not provide information regarding genetic health, conformation, performance ability, coat color, etc.”

You can now buy DNA testing kits online and at many pet supply retail stores. Most of the tests require only cheek swabbing, although one company requires a blood test at a veterinarian’s office.

Initially, DNA testing was developed because dog owners wanted to know what kind of dog they have. Veterinarians have found this useful when discussing the dog’s health with its owner. For example, “It is well known that purebred dogs are predisposed to various health problems, and investigating a patient’s unknown genetic heritage may be beneficial to their future health care,” said Ashley Mitek, an anesthesiology and pain management resident at the University of Illinois.

Now, DNA is becoming used as a tool for finding the bad guys — criminals in our society. So far there seems to be little controversy among pet owners about this new use of DNA. Perhaps many are ashamed to admit that they don’t pick up after their dog.

Benny L. Kass is a Washington lawyer. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining legal counsel. For a free copy of the booklet “A Guide to Settlement on Your New Home,” send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Benny L. Kass, 1050 17th St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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