DNA could solve doggie whodunit

BALTIMORE — Someone of the canine persuasion has been leaving his business all over the ritzy Scarlett Place condominium near Baltimore's Inner Harbor. And the condo board says the only way to find the culprit: mandated DNA tests for every dog in the building.

"We pay all this money, and we're walking around stepping in dog poop. We bring guests over and this is what they're greeted by. It's embarrassing for me as a dog owner and as someone who lives in this building," says Steve Frans, the board member who raised the idea of hiring a lab to identify which of the dozens of dogs in the luxury building is behind the droppings.

"Some people think it's funny. But you know, this seems to be a reasonable, objective way to say, 'This is your poop, you're responsible.' "

Under the proposal, every dog at Scarlett Place and guest dogs would be swabbed for a DNA sample — owners would then have to pay $50 each to cover the test and supplies. Dog owners would also pay an extra $10 per month per dog to cover the cost of having the building's staff scoop poop and send it to a lab. Feces, like saliva, contains tell-tale DNA.

If the lab identifies your dog as the pooper, that's a $500 fine.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," says Richard Hopp, an attorney who's lived in the building for four years with Sparky. "I feel like I'm living in a 'Seinfeld' episode."

The condo board will decide whether to go with the doggy DNA plan after a hearing Wednesday evening. If they do, they will become one of the world's apparent leaders in using a science that has convicted murderers and confirmed paternity to pinpoint the source of wayward excrement.

Scarlett Place is considering working with a Tennessee company called BioPet Vet Lab that offers a service called PooPrints. PooPrints is marketed specifically to neighborhoods and homeowners associations plagued by dog droppings. BioPet officials declined to return calls Friday, and it is unclear how many community organizations, if any, are using the service.

Building manager Rita Shriver isn't thrilled with a solution where she'd have to pick up dog poop and then mail it. She agrees that the building has a problem, and a disgusting one at that, but she's not sure doggy DNA, which she first thought was a joke, is the answer.

"How has it got to this point where we have to have a CSI thing going on?" she says. "This is just insane."

Some residents have suggested installing cameras to keep an eye on dogs, but Frans, who doesn't understand his neighbors' resistance to DNA testing, says video documentation would be more expensive, more time-consuming and "more draconian and more like a police state."

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