Breckenridge weighs DNA testing dog poop after complaints pile up
Call it CSI for canines. Call it a new low in personal responsibility. However you look at it, DNA tests aren’t just for cracking high-profile crimes anymore.
Facing a longstanding problem of pet owners either failing or refusing to clean up after their companions, Breckenridge town staff are seriously considering DNA testing more than 50 dogs living in town-owned apartments.
“We have and continue to explore the DNA-identification option,” said Laurie Best, a senior planner with the town who informed council last week that forensic testing for dogs and their feces isn’t a far-fetched idea.
“In other communities where this service is available, we believe it is shown to be a very effective deterrent,” she explained in a follow-up email, referencing places like Aspen and Denver, where implementation of such programs has been credited with cutting into the poop problem.
Because Breckenridge has struggled with affordable housing, the town has been forced into the landlord business and now manages 175 apartments across four complexes, all of which are owned by the town.
At the request of the Summit Daily, Best checked in on the number of complaints the town has received regarding dog droppings at those apartment complexes. Three responded by Monday afternoon, and according to figures relayed by Best from the property managers, there were at least 23 complaints in 2017 at two Pinewood Village developments and at Huron Landing combined.
Numbers weren’t available for the fourth complex, but the other three account for 145 of the town’s 175 apartment units. With 48 registered dogs living in just those units, it’s a safe assumption about one-third of the town’s tenants have dogs.
Based on the town’s rules for renters, failing to clean up after one of them warrants a written warning on the first offense. The second infraction comes with a $100 fine, and a third runs $500. Any additional violations can lead to eviction.
So far, the town has not evicted any tenants for dog-related problems, Best said, but it remains an option.
Does testing work?
Sam Johnson is the president of Pet Scoop, a Denver-based company that offers PooPrints’ DNA-testing service for dogs.
He said the program only works in controlled communities, like an HOA or apartment complex, but once implemented, it’s a highly effective tool for reducing uncollected dog poop.
The way it works is the owner of an apartment complex, for example, would enter into a contract with the company and start including a stipulation about DNA testing pets in the residents’ leases.
All of the dogs living in the community would then have their cheeks swabbed, Johnson said, allowing the company to create DNA profiles for them.
It typically costs about $40-50 per dog for the initial testing, Johnson explained, adding that most properties will see a 70-90 percent reduction in uncollected dog feces immediately upon the initial testing.
Once that’s all complete, he said, Pet Scoop can test any uncollected waste left on the property and match it to a dog in the database, provided the pooper has been previously tested. Those follow-up tests generally run about $60-$80 each.
Right now, Pet Scoop is offering the PooPrints service statewide and working with about 60-70 communities on the Front Range on DNA testing dogs, explained Johnson, who said a community can expect a 90-95 percent overall reduction in uncollected dog feces after the program’s been in place long enough for residents to become aware of it.
“That’s how effective it is,” he said.
a risky nuisance
Uncollected dog feces isn’t just a public nuisance, said Dan Hendershott, environmental health manager at the Summit County Public Health Department.
“We do have health-related concerns when it comes to excessive dog feces,” he explained, adding that it has tested positive for a number of pathogens, including Giardia, E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, roundworm and hookworm.
Additionally, there have been “documented” outbreaks of disease in humans associated with exposure to dog feces.
“Although these outbreaks are not regular occurrences,” he said, “exposure does present a real risk.” And it’s not just to humans, either.
According to staff at Summit County Animal Control, some parasites and diseases in dogs can be transmitted from one pup to another via their feces.
There are other environmental concerns, as well, and precipitation events, like melting snowfall and rain, can carry the pathogens into nearby waterways, increasing the opportunity for human exposure.
“There is enough evidence showing the potential for disease transmission that the Public Health Department is concerned with this potential, first and foremost,” Hendershott said.
However, department officials are not aware of any cases of human disease outbreaks in Summit County that originated from dog feces.
A bigger issue
Failing to clean up after one’s dog is a municipal offense anywhere in Breckenridge with fines ranging from $50 to $200.
In conjunction with the county, the Breckenridge Open Space and Trials Department manages almost 50 miles of trails, mainly in and outside of town, and officials there also know uncollected dog poop is more than just an unsightly occurrence.
Tony Overlock, a specialist within the department, said the dog-poop issue always seems to pop up about the same time every year, whether it’s inside town or along the many nearby trails and paths the department keeps an eye on.
“It’s definitely an issue,” he said, adding they try to manage it through education, signage and having poop-bag stations at most popular trailheads, much in the same way Breckenridge, its police force and other Summit County towns do.
Per the law, a first offense comes with a $50 fine, with the fee jumping on the second and third offenses within 18 months to $100 and $200, respectively.
Still, nobody’s really getting any tickets from Breckenridge police for their dogs’ poop — at least not yet.
“We have not written a ticket to anyone citing this ordinance, nor do I have any set numbers on complaints being made,” said Colleen Goettelman, a supervisor at the police department.
She said it’s not the easiest thing to catch in the act, but “we do know it’s an issue, especially when the weather warms up and melting begins.”
Even though police haven’t been heavy handed on enforcement, she said, they have done campaigns trying to get people to be more responsible pet owners.
Now, Goettelman added, it might be time to revisit some of those efforts.
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