Doggie don't: Annapolis condo turns to DNA testing to police doggie doo

For The Capital

Board members at the Park Place Condominium complex mean business about doggie business.

Fed up with messes left here and there, they’re laying down new rules — and relying on DNA samples to identify the perpetrators. So if owners skip cleaning up after their pets, the neighbors will have the scoop on the poop.

“If there’s an incident where someone hasn’t cleaned up after their pet, then we would take a sample of that so it can be matched,” said Jeanne Fisher, general manager for The Residence at Park Place Condominium. “If they can be matched, then there would be an automatic fine for not following the policy of cleaning up.”

Sound drastic? Possibly, but it’s actually not unheard of.

A “very small minority” of community associations have started taking similar steps in the last five years to curb poop problems as DNA testing has become more cost-effective and accessible, said Tom Skiba, CEO of Community Associations Institute. Usually, associations will turn to DNA when rule changes or bulletin board messages fail, he said.

“This is kind of the last resort to try to get a handle on both an aesthetic problem but also a potential health risk,” Skiba said.

While some are relying on DNA testing, other communities are being forced to hire contractors to remove pet waste, Skiba said. One service called “DoodyCalls” describes itself as “number one in the number two business.”

“This is a ‘people not treating each other with respect issue,’” Skiba said. “It has nothing to do with the poor dog.”

Pet owners in Annapolis can face a $100 fine per violation for not picking up after their dogs. In Anne Arundel County, violators could be subject to $50-$500 fines for not removing animal waste from public walks, recreation areas or private areas other than their own.

Park Place is a “very dog friendly” community, with about 50 dogs, Fisher said. Its dog walking area, complete with artificial turf, is called “Bark Place.”

But fond as they are of their four-legged tenants, the residents aren’t as happy with owners who don’t clean up.

The complex had tried emails, dog meetings, fines and a security camera in the dog park. But the evidence from the camera wasn’t entirely conclusive on “whose dog left what,” said Eric Anderson, treasurer on the board of directors for Park Place.

Fisher said she turned to Community Associations Institute and came across “doggie DNA” as an option when residents began complaining about unscooped poop.

“It’s becoming very well known in the community association industry as a way to take care of what can be a difficult problem,” she said. “We decided to embark on it. No pun intended.”

The condo association spent about $2,500 on pet DNA kits and about 20 owners began providing samples.

Park Place resident Tom Haller said he doesn’t consider the policy heavy handed. His wife provided a saliva sample from their Yorkshire Terrier Eloise, even though their dog doesn’t go outside.

“I understand why they did it,” said Haller, who has lived in his condo for more than five years. “It’s what neighbors do to make sure everybody plays nice together.”

If the association decides to send a specimen to a lab for testing, it costs about $90, which would be passed on to the offending party along with a fine. The actual fines will be decided next month.

“What we hear though, is once you implement this, your problem goes to practically zero and it’s not something that has to be done,” Fisher said. “It’s something to encourage people to do the right thing.”

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