Doggie DNA to be used in fight against messy owners

Pet owners could be ordered to hand over samples of their dogs' DNA under extraordinary new plans to combat fouling.

Saturday, 16th April 2016, 1:27 pm
Dog waste

Officials at Wyre Council hope forensic testing of dog mess will put a stop to irresponsible owners leaving faeces lying on pavements and in parks across the borough.

Parks boss Coun David Henderson said: “It’s a very good idea and we are taking it very seriously. It’s certainly feasible.”

Under the plans, DNA would be collected from dogs using a cheek swab which would then be sent to a lab, with the details logged by Poo Prints UK, an animal DNA specialist based in Flintshire.

Bag it and bin it.

It would allow offending piles of poo to be tested and traced back to their owners with 99.9 per cent accuracy by one of Wyre’s five Street Scene staff, leading to an on-the-spot fine of £75.

Council officers are keeping a close eye on results from Barking and Dagenham, where fouling is said to have halved since the local authority there became the first in the UK to introduce DNA testing on dog mess.

A three-month-long pilot scheme, which ends next week, has been hailed a success and will be rolled out on a wider scale. Although swabbing in the London borough is currently voluntary, the council has offered incentives, including free testing, to build its doggie database and warned the scheme will now become compulsory.

Coun Henderson, of Vicarage Road, Poulton, admitted relying on pet owners to volunteer would be the scheme’s ‘chink in the armour’ and said obligatory testing is an option.

Bag it and bin it.

He said: “We have discussed this and we have thrown these questions into the middle of the table.

“Do we start by asking people to do it voluntarily or do we target puppies by going to kennels and saying dogs have to be chipped and DNA tested?

“That’s an obvious starting point but we would have to move it on.”

Gary Downie, managing director at Poo Prints, said a public space protection order banning dogs that haven’t been DNA tested from certain areas, such as parks and the beach, could be introduced.

Council house tenancy agreements could also be amended to make testing a requirement, he said.

“We had a very good conversation with Wyre Council. They seem very interested in the concept. We gave them a demonstration and hopefully it will be their next port of call,” he told the Gazette.

“Wyre face a huge public demand to tackle dog fouling but have low detection rates. This would change that.”

Some 432 complaints about dog fouling were lodged with Wyre Council last year, and half of all residents expressed ‘significant concern’ about the problem during a recent survey.

Coun Henderson admitted the borough has a problem with dog fouling, and said it is both costly to clean up and hazardous to health.

“I worked alongside a friend who daughter contracted toxocariasis [a rare infection passed from animals to humans through faeces] at Revoe Park in South Shore when she was four,” he said.

“She went blind in one eye and, unfortunately, some time later doctors had to remove her other eye.

“A four-year-old girl, who was healthy and happy, playing in a park, could not see anymore.

“When people talk to me about dog fouling, I always remember her.”

Talks have been held with officers at Barking and Dagenham Council, which has been working with vets to offer free swabbing for the first 1,000 people to register.

It said mess traced to dogs through DNA will receive a warning, but said if unregistered pets are caught fouling, their owners will be slapped with a fine of up to £80.

Council leader Darren Rodwell said: “We will be introducing some sort of enforceable action later in the year. In what guise that will be will be shaped by the outcome of the pilot scheme.

“This is about considerate dog owners taking a stand against irresponsible owners who fail to pick up their pet’s poo.”

Despite the council encouraging people to report it, the number of complaints about dog mess have fallen in Wyre over the past three years.

But there has been a marked increase during the recent winter months, which a council spokeswoman blamed on ‘people thinking they can get away with not picking it up as it’s dark and they believe they won’t be seen’.

She said: “We are monitoring Barking and Dagenham. We think it’s a good idea but need to know how to put it into practice and what the costs will be.”

Several measures have been taken to crackdown on dog fouling in Cleveleys, Fleetwood, Poulton, Thornton, and the borough’s other townships recently.

Dog mess bins have been scrapped, with the council’s message now ‘any bin will do’, while spray painting faeces, including on the coastal path and Prom, was an idea touted last year.

New signs are also being put up across the borough.

Fleetwood councillor Mike Barrowclough said: “Dog fouling is an inherent problem and one which takes up too much of both councillors’ and officers’ time and more important, taxpayers’ money.

“Repeat offenders who do not clean up after their dogs are to blame for causing the spread of diseases.”

The opposition leader at Wyre Council, Coun Ruth Duffy, said she had concerns about the scheme’s potential cost, and said hiring dog wardens to patrol hotspots could be a better use of money.

She said: “If it can be done and it’s cost-effective, I’m all for it. It’s about improving the environment.

“Ultimately, unless they have got more bodies on the ground, it will remain an ongoing issue because I don’t think they’ve got the money to throw at DNA testing.

“It depends how quickly they can get their money back through fines.”

The council spokeswoman added: “We no longer get the same hotspots that we have in the past.

“Offcers review reports and intelligence and carry out foot patrols accordingly, which has helped to reduce the problem in areas that were previously hotspots.”

Blackpool and Fylde councils said they were aware of DNA dog testing but currently have no plans to bring it in.

A spokesman for Fylde said the area attracts professional dog walkers based outside of the borough, which would make enforcement of any testing difficult.