“Boulder City Councilwoman Mary Young wants to know how feasible it would be to require DNA samples from dogs with city-issued green tags that could be saved for later comparison to waste found on open space.”
The prevailing wisdom of dog-ownership is that when you are out on a walk and your dog poops, the moral and legally correct thing to do is place it in a plastic bag, carry it home, and place it in another plastic bag to be sent to the landfill with all the other individually wrapped dog poops. This has always struck me as environmentally unsustainable, and humiliating for both the owner and dog.
From a law-enforcement perspective, making dog waste illegal is applying the methodology of punishment to force people to perform this humiliating and environmentally harmful act at the point of a gun. The fact that the City of Boulder is seeking to escalate the War Against Poop is a sure indicator that this approach has already failed.
From a genetic standpoint, DNA testing is not nearly as accurate as is popularly believed. Genetic drift, epigenetic materials, sample contamination and the small number of target genes used in DNA testing leads to a surprisingly high number of false negatives and false positives, which increase with the size of the database. I experienced this firsthand while assisting with the development of Ibis Bioscience’s PlexID system; those who ran themselves against the partial FBI database available would often get 5 to 10 positive matches, despite not being in the database. There were cases of individual’s hair sample not matching their blood, due to genetic drift. Prosecution of dog owners under this system might turn out to be expensive and inefficient.
It is also worth noting that the database would only contain samples from “green tagged” dogs. In other words, only the most responsible dogs and dog owners would be considered in the pool of poop suspects.
I would like to propose the possibility that dog-owners are in fact responsible individuals who care for their animals and environment. That it is unnecessary and ineffective to punish them into acceptable behavior, and that there are gentler ways to achieve better results. Here are a few suggestions:
- Provide biodegradable bags at trailheads and even along the trail.
- Expand the number of trash cans on and near trails.
- Ignore it; animals have been pooping in the woods for a long time, and it seems to work out ok.
- Have the rangers pick up unattended poop; it’s probably less hastle and paperwork than writing tickets and hiring extra prosecutors and poop investigation services. Also, the poop gets picked up.
- Put a bounty on poop; say 25¢/pound. This being Boulder people could register as official poop-pickers, pick up serialized buckets, drop them off at conveniently located deposit points (then sent to compost), and receive a check at the end of each time-period. There may be some unintended consequences, but again, the poop would actually get picked up. And it would be handled in an environmentally responsible manner, unlike the escalating punishment plan.
There will be a public hearing about this on Tuesday, April 1 at 6PM. On the off-chance that this is not a well-constructed April Fool’s Day prank by the generally sober Boulder City Council, I plan to attend and present some of these ideas.