Israeli city hopes DNA will squelch poop scoop offenders

Israeli city hopes DNA will squelch poop scoop offendersBetah Tikva, Israel  - An Israeli municipality is going to the dogs, literally, in an attempt to crack down on a problem common to every location with a large canine population.

Dr Tika Bar-On, Chief Veterinarian of the city of Petah Tikva, east of Tel Aviv, is setting up a DNA data-base of dogs, which she hopes will help the city track down poop-scoop offenders.

Israel has a law requiring dog owners to clean up after their pets in public, and offenders face a fine of around 165 dollars. But unless an offender is caught in the act, the law is difficult to implement.

Bar-On hopes her dog DNA data-base will change all that. Her plan is simple: Inspectors will scoop tiny samples of the left-over poop and send them off to the laboratory, where their DNA will be matched against the data base, and, once the results are in, the offenders will be fined.

The date base has its origins in a conversation Bar-On had with Petah Tikva Mayor Yitzhak Ohion regarding the "squelch" occasionally heard by pedestrians navigating sidewalks in neighbourhoods with large pooch populations.

"He called and said he could deal with most regular municipal problems, but this was way beyond his expertise," Bar-On recalls.

That got Baron thinking. She knew a doggy DNA database was being considered elsewhere in the world, but progress had been scanty and such a project had never been implemented.

Undeterred, and wondering whether it could, in fact, provide the solution, she worked out how much the programme would cost, how she could find laboratories which would do the checking, and, crucially, how to get DNA samples from dogs when there was no law requiring it be done.

In the end, she decided it implement a pilot project in one Petah Tikva neighbourhood.

"The location chosen was fairly upscale, with lots of dogs - around 400 - and lots of complaints about excess dog products on the pavements," she says.

The next step was to convince people to allow DNA samples to be taken from their dogs. Bar-On obtained the cooperation of the local neighbourhood committee and of the municipality, and decided to ask people to volunteer to give DNA samples from their mutts.

She also asked people to collect dog doo and send it in.

The project formally got underway in September, and on November 11, a neighbourhood meeting was held, in which the health benefits of the project were explained, namely that diseases from dog faeces could be transferred to humans if the poop was not scooped.

And there was the environmental aspect - no one wants a mine field on their pavement. And finally, Bar-On told the dog-owners, cleaner pavements just might increase the affection non-dog owners have for canines.

The Israel dog owners association supported the project. Taking the DNA was a simple procedure - a "happening" with dogs was organized, with all dog-owners in the neighbourhood invited.

Some 90 per cent of those approached agreed to give samples, and in return they got a doo-collection kit, consisting of a small container, filled with plastic bags, which could be attached to the dog's collar.

So far, Bar-On has more than 100 DNA samples, and is aiming for another 100 more - 50 per cent of the target.

The lab checking the DNA against the poop is privately run, even though the municipality is underwriting the project to the tune of 120 shekels (30 dollars).

There are, of course, still problems ahead, if no longer quite so underfoot. At present, Israel has no law requiring dog-owners to provide a DNA sample from their dogs, although Bar-On hopes that one will soon be passed.

And of course, every sample of dog faeces will have to be followed up and checked.

But the DNA data base will not just be used to crack down on the those who turn pavements into minefields. It can also help identify dogs which are ill, can help check the pedigree of dogs adopted from animal shelters, and can be be used to help reunite owners with lost dogs. (dpa)