TOWN councils in Catalunya will test dog excrement on the street for DNA and then fine the owners – a growing trend across Spain designed as a deterrent to those who do not clear up after their pets.
La Seu d'Urgell, in the land-locked province of Lleida, has set up a DNA database of all domestic dogs in town, meaning a faeces sample will instantly tell them who owns the 'creator' and who is about to be hit with a €300 sanction.
It has taken around eight years to draw up the database, which centres on similar technology as that used by forensics when seeking to solve violent crimes and was developed by a team of 11 researchers at Barcelona's Autonomous (regional) University.
The team set up a company, Vetgenomics, and its spokesman Óscar Ramírez says similar schemes exist in the USA: anyone who owns a dog and plans to rent an apartment will be required to provide a DNA sample as part of the contract, so that if excrement is not cleared up from communal areas, the complex management can trace the tenant and issue a fine.
Ramírez says laziness about using a poop-scoop in these residential complexes has been completely wiped out.
Vetgenomics has sold its scheme to other Catalunya towns including Sitges and Parets in the province of Barcelona, and the tiny Pyrénéen country of Andorra is expected to sign up to it shortly.
Town councils involved will need to pass a bye-law obliging all dog-owners to provide a sample, usually of blood but which can also be saliva or even hair, along with the usual legal requirement for the animal to be chipped, vaccinated and registered with the local authority.
Some towns have agreed to fund the cost of the blood test, which is €25, and its analysis, another €35 – one of these is Sitges.
Where excrement is found on the street, council workers will send a sample of it to Vetgenomics, who will match it with their DNA database.
Sitges local councillor Jordi Mas says the scheme could cause problems where dogs and their owners from outside the town visit and leave a mess behind, or where residents with pets flout local bye-laws and do not register their animals.
He is keen for the Catalunya regional government to consider making the DNA database a legal requirement for all town councils, which would also allow shared access to it by every local authority in the region.
Some towns in the Comunidad Valenciana, on the east coast, have set the wheels in motion to take similar measures, but other locations in Spain have rather more inventive ideas.
A group of local residents in Oliva, southern Valencia province, created bright yellow flags on cocktail sticks with warning slogans, and anyone who saw a pile of dog-mess would drop a flag into it so it showed up – this had the dual purpose of warning pedestrians in advance, and of embarrassing offending dog-owners, albeit anonymously.
Even more creative was Brunete, in the Greater Madrid region, whose local council sent out volunteers to 'chat up' dog-owners.
If anyone was seen letting their pet foul the streets without cleaning it up, the volunteers would casually saunter up to them and start a conversation, enthusing about how 'cute' their dogs were, in order to get the owners to reveal the animal's name and breed.
This information was enough to identify the owner, but instead of getting a fine notice, the offender would receive a home delivery of a 'parcel', and told it was 'lost property' being returned to them.
When the owner opened the package on the doorstep and found it contained his or her dog's excrement, the deliverer would film the excruciating moment.
Brunete said the move worked better than issuing fines because of the embarrassment factor – and within weeks, the incidence of abandoned faeces on the streets dropped by over 70%.