Malaga, Spain is set to become the first major city in Europe to require its entire population of dogs to register their DNA. Once the new law is introduced all 100,000 dogs in the Andalucian city will be given six month to become DNA registered via their local veterinarian. The cost to register each dog will be 35 euros (£31). After the 6 month period has passed all dog owners will be required to carry a card detailing their dogs microchip number and genetic profile. Failure to comply will result in a fine of between 110 - 130 euros (£96 - £113). Councillor for Environmental Sustainability Raul Jiminez stated " For the measure to work well it has to be accompanied by punitive elements."
Malaga is following in the footsteps of other municipalities across Spain. "We know there is a drastic reduction in canine excrement in the street." said Jimenez about its effectiveness.
The new law has received cross party support in the Commission of Environmental Sustainability and will require a green light from the General Assembly. Once agreed, the new law will be published in the Official Gazette of the Province (BOP). From that moment, dog owners will have six months to visit their veterinarian for registration.
In addition to combating the problem of canine excrement on the streets. It is hoped that the DNA registration of all dogs will lead to improvements in animal welfare. Malaga City Council have set out their ambitions to have zero dogs euthanized. In 2016, 1473 dogs entered municiple animal sancturies, of which 1,047 were delivered by their owners, 426 were collected on the streets. Last year there were 547 euthanised dogs in Malaga, 14% less than last year and 50% less since 2011.
200,000 euros have been included in the municipal budget to help cover the cost where owners do not have the economic means to pay for the DNA registration. Exemption to the rules will be made for guide dogs and police dogs.
As a results of the new law pet dogs will be able to access any type of public establishment, unless their is a prohibition on the part of the owner. Dogs however will not be permitted on any premises dedicated to the processing, storage or handling of food. Also being banned are collars which can be considered as "punishment", and the exhibition of animals for sale in store windows.
Via El Pais
We owe Anne Main MP a thank you for raising awareness around the issue of dog fouling and particularly plastic bag usage. The stats are pretty phenomenal around single use plastic bags related to the 8.5 million resident dogs in the UK. Here is a quick desktop analysis.... Assuming 90% of dog owners are responsible enough to pick up their dog waste and bag it, this equates to over 4.1 BILLION single use plastic bags used every year in the UK. An utterly staggering amount considering this plastic bag now cocoons the obnoxious remnants of a single bowel movement of a pet dog! So I completely understand where she is coming from regarding the phenomenon of people hanging bags from trees.
Whilst some of the visible effects from inconsiderate dog ownership are all to easy to recognise i.e. poo bags hanging from trees in our countryside, left on beaches, dog fouling in urban areas, etc., the underlying cost to communities, business and local authorities are now more clearly understood. Particularly in terms of cost of cleaning up, handling complaints from an irate public, reputational damage, deterrent to inward investment and tourism. As a result, we must find new ways that actively challenge societal behaviour and individual habit - I believe that canine DNA technology can resolve these symptomatic problems. I appreciate that at this point you are likely thinking that this is a novel solution. As I almost did the minute it popped into my head. However bear with me......
2,500 tonnes, that was the amount of horse manure produced by the 200,000 horses that used to move people and goods around London in the late 19th century. Much of this manure went uncollected, which posed a terrible problem. The manure was so widespread, smelly and unsanitary that houses were built with their entrances off the ground floor - hence the term 'rise above it'.
Like so many seemingly overwhelming problems this one was resolved, quite painlessly by technology. The motor car led to the disappearance of horses, and with them went their manure.
Fast forward to today, most of our animal manure now comes from our dogs. In Greater London for example that population now stands at approximately 340,000 dogs (PFMA, 2016). Obviously nowadays their waste doesn't just lie there, although surprisingly it only became UK law in 1996 to be compelled to pick up after your dog, and cities are plainly cleaner than they were in the 70's and 80's. However with a penalty of £50 for being caught not cleaning up, the law does not provide much financial incentive to clean up. Nor is it vigorously enforced. So let's pretend that 90% of dog owners do obey the law and are responsible, that still leaves 34,000 dogs who's doggy deposits are left in the public open spaces of London every day. In 2015, London based local authorities issued 160 fines for dog fouling, which suggests that an irresponsible dog owner stands a 1 in 80,000 chance of getting a fine in London.
This indicates that social incentives - such as the glare of a passer by and the offender's feelings of guilt - are at least as powerful as the threat of financial and legal penalties. If social forces get us most of the way there, how do we deal with the occasional miscreant who fails to clean up? With horses the solution was simply to remove the horses. However, how do we get rid of dog poop without getting rid of dogs? Technology has the answer.
The solution lies with recent advances in dog DNA technology. Imagine every dog had to provide a simple cheek swab or blood test during a routine visit to their vet to establish a DNA profile. In the event that nuisance dog waste is encountered on public open spaces or in a bag hanging on a tree, a sample could be taken from that waste and matched to an individual dog, and by association its owner. Faeces is a robust DNA source after all.
I agree that the likelihood of this happening is improbable. However, it demonstrates that it is entirely possible. In monetary terms the once off cost to DNA register a dog is £35. Very reasonable when considered in the context of the lifetime cost of owning a dog is £16,000. But lets look at a different scenario - It was free to register for dog owners. Economics of scale would play a part, likely resulting in the cost to be around £20 per dog = £150 million. However, compliance is vigorously enforced upon with a fine of £100 for non compliance. One thing to consider at this point, is the direct cost of cleaning the streets of Britain is £1 billion+, with disamenity impact cost of £7.6 billion. Either way we have spent £150 million ridding our streets from the menace of dog fouling - or we have seed funding into a new enforcement regime!
Even more compelling are the wider benefits of dog DNA registration beyond stamping out lamentable dog fouling problems. These include:
Thanks to the NY Times.
Dogs are a way of life in rental housing and if you want your rentals fully leased, dog owners are a key tenant demographic landlords may want to keep.
Look just at Millennials: 76 percent are pet owners and the majority are them are renters.
You might have laughed at first at this headline on how dog DNA registration could fix a landlord dog waste problem. But here is the reality:
Here is how it works:
Tenants swab the inside of their dogs’ mouth and provide a DNA sample that is then registered on a secure database. When you find dog waste in or around the property that a tenant failed to pick up, you can simply send a sample to the lab and they will identify the offending dog so you can then take it up with the tenant.
“The number one thing for property managers is ‘how can they keep clean their property and its open spaces whilst make people responsible for their dogs?” said Ernie Jones, from BioPet. He said some have tried cameras, but that is a huge ongoing expense that requires employees to monitor, and often the images are grainy and hard to determine the dog in question.
“One of the biggest advantages is, it takes away the denial from the tenant about whose dog left the errant waste behind,” Jones said. “And it helps avoid the neighbour vs. neighbour accusations about whose dog was responsible for the waste encountered.”
Who bears the cost of the dog DNA program?
So how does the business model work for the company and the landlord?
“The business model is a startup fee – the dog DNA registration – and the DNA waste processing is profitable at the start,” for us, Jones says. His profitability declines as the residents and the complex keep things cleaned up, but it is never 100% and there are still cases of waste sample analysis his company will handle.
“The main objection for property managers is the start-up costs. If a housing association has 100 dogs at £30 per dog to get started, then that is £3,000 that has to come from somewhere that is usually not in the property’s budget,” Jones said.
However, “once a program is in place, it creates increased occupancy and desirability from potential new tenants who recognise the benefits,” he said.
“Typically the pet owner bears the cost,” Jones said, and “not the landlord itself. Typical start-up cost are £30-£40 per resident dog. Some properties have to ‘grandfather’ in existing pet owners and gradually start the program with new residents and when leases come up for renewal.”
"Tenant fines are typically the way apartments handle the complaints when dog waste is found, and the owner identified. This covers the cost of the DNA waste analysis. However, when tenants realise they can be held accountable via their tenancy agreement they soon improve their waste management practices!"
The environmental issue around dog waste:
In addition to keeping communal areas clean, there are also concerns around the human health risks, and water pollution from uncollected dog waste. “Dog waste is considerably more polluting than you may think," Jones said.
“The average person today thinks of dog waste as simply a nuisance when they step in it. They are also under the assumption that it simply turns into fertilizer,”. “In fact, dog waste is not fertilizer and does not simply deteriorate; instead, dog waste is the most contaminated waste of any animal. Their bodies have adapted over the years to digest any type of foods; as such, they produce huge quantities of bacteria, including E-coli and salmonella.
Cash strapped local councils are starting to lean on the housing associations from an environmental standpoint to help clean up the environment and reduce long term costs and contamination levels. Dense urban areas are a particular problem.
“Dog waste draws rodents, rodents draw feral cats,” Jones said. “One other major issue seldom understood is that rats eat dog waste: the more left on the ground, the greater the rat population and also the diseases they can pass on. Many major cities have reported a large increase in rat numbers in parallel with the growth of their dog population. This is not about whether someone doesn’t like to pick up their dog’s dropping. This is a social responsibility and about protecting the environment.”
Current compliance systems not working?
Dog waste can be disposed of properly, but not by the present system of compliance.
“Every community has tried signs and campaigns, however they only provide short term solutions, and have little or no effect on irresponsible dog owners. Some have even spray-painted the waste to show its prevalence. None of these methods have worked. Dog owners must be accountable. And the only proven way to make that happen is with DNA detection.”
Do tenants try to beat the system?
Jones said apartment complexes have issues with tenants who try various means to avoid the DNA registration process, such as hiding dogs to avoid registering their pet during a rollout.
One tenant with a white bulldog came up with another plan to beat the system.
Jones tells the story of one particular property that kept picking up poop and getting “no matches” and could not figure out what was going on.
The mystery was solved when they found out that a tenant who had registered his white bulldog bought a second, almost identical, white bulldog he did not register. He walked them one at a time so most people could not tell which dog was which. Eventually it was discovered that the second white bulldog turned out to be the source of the “mystery poop.”
If a property finds poop what happens next?
All the poop samples come into the lab in Tennessee from across the world. Jones estimates they get 700 to 1,000 poop samples a month from around the country. All the samples are delivered in special-leak proof bottles with a special solution that protects and preserves the DNA.
Property managers saying dog DNA registration is a win-win for dog owners and landlords alike:
"We use it as a sales tool. It's something we knew we'd implement right at the beginning,'' Kris Tomlinson, property manager of a 320-unit apartment complex that opened about a year ago. Tomlinson said the program has proven an effective deterrent, as only one person has been assessed the fine in the past year.
"We told them it was their dog, charged the £175 fine. They weren't happy, but then they tell their friends because they're (upset)'' he told the newspaper. We had considered not permitting tenants to own dogs, but this service provided the required accountability whereby we felt we could be assured that dog owners would act responsibly. It has been a tremendous success for all concerned.
A prominent vet and one of the world's leading parasitologists Dr Ian Wright recently threw his support behind London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council's pioneering dog DNA registration scheme.
Dr Wright said: “Picking up dog mess and leaving it lying around in a bag does not help the situation, it needs bagging and binning properly. It’s why I’m backing Barking and Dagenham council’s dog DNA registration scheme – it’s bold, innovative and will help wipe out dog mess problems.”
Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Councillor Darren Rodwell, said: “It’s well documented that dog mess poses health risks to humans, especially the young. Our mission to wipe our dog mess in Barking and Dagenham will not only help us make a cleaner, better borough, it will help us make a healthier one too.”
European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) also threw their weight behind the schemes objectives: "European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) UK & Ireland fully supports London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council’s initiative to reduce dog fouling through DNA registration of dogs. Though this initiative, if dog fouling can continue to be reduced, then transmission of Toxocara will fall and people’s health will benefit as a whole."
What is Toxocara?
Toxocara is a parasite found in cats and dogs which can be passed to humans from eggs passed in cat and dog faeces. Although the eggs are not infective straight away, they develop in soil and as well as posing an infective risk at parks and beaches, may then also go on to contaminate fruit and vegetables, sandpits and children’s toys. People infected through ingesting the eggs can become ill in a number of different ways. The most well-known effect is retinal scarring and eye damage (Ocular larval migrans) that can lead to damaged vision and even blindness. Migrating larvae can also cause damage to organs (visceral larval migrans), causing abdominal pain, headaches and fatigue. Infection has also been linked to an increased risk of epilepsy, dermatitis and asthma.
Whilst the number of cases is low, with only approximately two people per million in the UK diagnosed with health problems associated with Toxocara infection each year, around 2% of the UK population - approximately 1.2 million people have seroconverted (been exposed to infection) so this is likely to be a significant underestimate of the total health problems caused.
Health problems caused by Toxocara infection (toxocariasis) can be prevented by the following steps:
ABOUT ESCCAP (European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites) UK & Ireland
ESCCAP UK & Ireland is a National Association of ESCCAP bringing together some of the UK and Ireland's leading experts in the field of veterinary parasitology. ESCCAP UK & Ireland works with pet owners and professionals to raise awareness of the threat from parasites and to provide relevant information and advice.
The European Scientific Counsel for Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP) was formed in 2005. It is an independent, not for profit, organisation comprising a group of eminent veterinarians across Europe, all with recognised expertise in the field of parasitology. It is dedicated to providing access to clear and constructive information for veterinarians and pet owners with the aim of strengthening the animal human bond. It works to provide the knowledge essential to help eradicate parasites in
pets and the objective is to have a Europe where parasites are no longer a health issue for pets or humans.
Dr Ian Wright
Dr Ian Wright BVMS BSc MSc MRCVS qualified at Glasgow University and is a practising veterinary surgeon at the Withy Grove Veterinary Surgery and co-owner of the Mount Veterinary Practice in Fleetwood. He has a master’s degree in veterinary parasitology and is an editorial board member for the Companion Animal journal. Ian is regularly published in peer-reviewed journals and peer reviews for JSAP, Companion Animal and Veterinary Parasitology. He continues to carry out research in practice including work on intestinal nematodes and tick-borne diseases.
By Matthew E. Kahn, University of Southern California
One Brooklyn apartment building has solved its open space problem by having all its 175 resident dogs registered and DNA tested. This has created a database that can be cross-checked when a new unwanted sample of poop is left in the communal areas. Those dog owners who are caught are fined and publicly shamed. The surrounding areas are now cleaner. Note that this externality has been mitigated through credible threats of punishment rather than appeal to the owners to "be nice to all".
Would privacy advocates oppose this "invasion" of privacy? Or does the protection of community open spaces justify this surveillance and enforcement?
Cities are subject to a series of insults; smoking, litter, poop, noise, crime, smells, vague uncertain threats from the homeless, drugs, graffiti. For each of these, how can "Big Data" collection help to achieve accountability to reduce these disamenities? Those cities that can achieve progress on each of these will become "green cities" and will attract more tourists and more commercial, residential and retail real estate business..
The interesting urban economics issue here is that increased population density in a given geographic area scales up each of these effects. For example, if 5 out of every 100 people smokes then an area with 10,000 people per square mile features 500 smokers. But, this scale effect of density is not a law of physics. As the dog poop example shows, there are ways to configure incentives and Big Data to mitigate these tragedy of the commons challenges. For example, would the next Mayor Bloomberg have drones fly NYC patrolling for issues? Or will a strange coalition of the ACLU and drug dealers and owners of dogs who don't like to pick up work together to block such new technologies from holding them accountable?
Green Cities can be produced but we must pay for them. You might say that Singapore has been willing to make these choices and then declare that you don't want to live in Singapore. I have spent 4 weeks of my life in Singapore and I like it there very much. Despite the high daily heat and humidity, it is a very livable city. Go there and experience what is it is like to live in a city that enforces "rules of the game".
The hazards to our health, environment and communities posed by irresponsible dog ownership – particularly errant dog fouling – is reason enough for many to call for pet DNA registration. But PooPrints UK can give you three more compelling reasons why this affordable, advancing technology can clear the path (quite literally!) for positive societal change.
The UK's local authorities are creaking, not just beneath a mountain of debt, but also beneath the proverbial mound of dog waste created by our nine million pet dogs, resulting in an annual clean-up bill of around £22 million for Local Government to pick up (again literally!).
A thousand tonnes of dog waste produced every day and not enough resources to clean up or clamp down. These are gross figures indeed, in every sense, but the revolution is coming and the wider, thus far unspoken, benefits of Dog DNA registration could be just as exciting as the obvious direct results.
Ever since the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham became the first council to publicly announce their adoption of the PooPrints UK DNA registration programme, to clean up the acts of irresponsible dog owners, the nation has sat up and pricked its ears at this revolutionary new idea.
The vast majority of feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. There is a swathe of the population that have simply had enough and are desperate to reclaim our parks and open spaces; returning them to the clean, green and serene environments that we expect.
One of the most vocal supporters of the scheme has been the RSPCA. The animal welfare charity were quick to recognise the many inherent benefits that DNA registration can have for the health and wellbeing of dogs, first and foremost, as well as the wider knock-on societal gains for communities.
The public health risks associated with dog waste (such as E.coli, Salmonella and Toxocariasis), as well as the economic and environmental impacts, have been well-documented. But let us give you three further compelling reasons to convince of the wider benefits of pet DNA registration.
1. Reuniting pets and owners after catastrophic events
A decade ago, Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands of New Orleans residents, forcing them to flee the city as levees burst and floodwater as high as 15 feet destroyed whole neighbourhoods. A minority stayed, however, and 44 per cent of those who did are thought to have remained to save their pets.
Following the exodus, the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated that 70,000 pets were left behind during the storm. Just 15,000 were rescued and, of those, a mere 20 per cent were reunited with their owners. The remainder became part of a growing population of unvaccinated, un-neutered and unsocialised strays.
After Katrina, the evacuation of pets became mandatory under state and federal law. We would be wise to heed these lessons here in the UK, as part of our contingency plans. If ever such a catastrophic event were to unfold on our shores, the DNA registration of pets could play a pivotal role in reuniting pets with their owners quickly and accurately.
It is even conceivable that, once a dog owner has registered their dog to the DNA World Pet Registry, their other pets could also be co-registered – without being DNA sequenced – onto the database (we have already willingly co-registered one pet owner's prized pigs!). Thus, a great deal of unnecessary extra trauma, during what are already distressing times, could be averted.
2. Helping to eradicate unscrupulous puppy mills
Unscrupulous puppy mill owners maintain deplorable living conditions for breeding dogs and their puppies. Breeding dogs are caged throughout their lives, seldom walked or bathed, and bred constantly to produce litter after litter. These malpractices exacerbate overpopulation, hereditary diseases, and often produce socially maladjusted animals.
PooPrints UK's parent company, BioPet Vet Lab, has the ability to check that samples submitted by breeders are unique and not duplicates of existing dogs. Registration of each breeding dog and puppy is cost-effective and tracked via the centralised DNA World Pet Registry. Breeders maintain detailed records for each dog on the Registry – visible to local government, consumers and retailers – and compliance is monitored at the purchaser level, as breeders must register dogs in order to sell to retail or online outlets.
The benefits are many and wide-ranging. Consumers, animal welfare advocates and the pet-owning public can be assured that puppy mills will be eradicated. While breeders are incentivised to practise ethical procedures to meet the demand for puppies that are bred in reliable, reputable facilities.
Would-be pet owners are able to make informed buying decisions based on registration records, including animal health information and images of the breeding facility. Owners then enjoy the full benefits of DNA registered pets, including lost and found capabilities, lifetime proof of ownership, storage space for veterinary records and discounts for pet supplies online.
3. Driving affordable, unalterable and painless pet registration
BioPet Vet Lab has made extraordinary advancements in bringing affordable DNA sequencing and testing to the mass market. Not so long ago, it would have been inconceivable, laughable even, to suggest that we could sequence and register a dog's genetic makeup for just £30, and test the offending waste for a further £70.
But this is the very real solution that PooPrints UK, BioPet's sole British distributor, can now offer. Things are only set to get better too because, within three to five years, we predict that we will have the technology to make our labs mobile. In effect, that will be bring an even greater immediacy and ease to proceedings for dog owners and enforcement officers alike.
Another technological advantage of DNA testing is that it provides the only undeniable, unalterable proof of ownership. While we certainly welcome the national requirements for compulsory micro-chipping of all dogs from April 2016 – and envisage that micro-chipping and DNA registration could go paw in paw and be carried out in tandem – DNA registration remains the only painless and tamper-proof option for pet identification. One day, we hope it will become the standard bearer.
So, as you can see, there are far more benefits to dog DNA registration than simply stamping out our lamentable dog fouling problem. Although, that is certainly a great first step, don't you think?!
Puppy mills are large, commercial dog breeding operations that flood pet shops, garden centres and online outlets with dogs for sale. They are dedicated to producing as many puppies for profit as possible. They have no interest in a dog's long term health, exacerbate overpopulation, hereditary diseases, and often produce socially maladjusted animals.
Puppy mill owners maintain deplorable living conditions for the breeding dogs and their puppies. Breeding dogs are caged throughout their lives, seldom walked or bathed, and bred constantly to produce litter after litter. The puppies are not tested for genetic diseases or provided with any veterinary care. They live in tiny wire cages until weaned, then are brokered to pet shops, garden centres or sold directly to the public through online ads.
Though operations that sell to pet shops are required to be licensed, they are only required to provide the most basic of standards – food, water, and shelter (loosely defined by the breeder). Mills that sell directly to the consumer online or in person are not held to any standard of animal care.
The Public and Legislative Struggles
Animal welfare groups have worked tirelessly to shine the light of awareness upon puppy mills. In the UK Pup Aid, a campaign led by TV veterinarian Marc Abraham, presented 10 Downing Street with an 110,000 signature petition that led to a debate in the House of Commons. Despite strong support from MP's to support legislative change nothing has been done at Government level to help permanently address the issue of puppy mills.
In the US and Australia a similar tale has unfolded: The Humane Society of the United States(HSUS) three-month investigation of an online, large-scale puppy outlet discovered that puppies were purchased from mills throughout the country and sold to consumers through more than 800 different sites to give the illusion they were from “mom and pop” local breeders. Jonathan Lovvorn of the HSUS stated in the report, “Internet puppy sellers…deceive consumers about the origins of the puppies they sell, and as a result unsuspecting families suffer great expense caring for sick dogs, or the terrible anguish of losing a beloved family pet.”
The Permanent Solution – DNA
“DNA VERIFIED DOGS GIVES THE CONSUMER POWER TO MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS ABOUT THE PUPPY THEY INTEND TO MAKE PART OF THEIR FAMILY”
Benefits of DNA Registration
DNA – The 21st Century Solution
Public awareness has led to the current outcry against puppy mill practices. Despite the campaigning of recent years the scourge of puppy mills continues to grow. There is real concern that a scattered approach to regulate at local level may result in no long term solution. However, requiring the DNA registration of all canines might just be the solution.
We must recognise the challenges presented by a growing society and the increasing popularity of dog companionship (UK canine population increased by 12% from 2012-2014 PFMA) by providing responsible, effective and healthy choices that has become possible through advancements in animal genetics and veterinary medicine. As we push towards regulation we must consider that we can only regulate what we can identify, and mass dog breeding has historically been deceptive at best.
BioPet Vet Lab is a biotechnology company specializing in DNA extraction and analysis, with a proven system in place to register animal DNA including adult breeding dogs and puppies. BioPet also provides canine and cattle parentage analysis as well as DNA matching of canine faecal samples. A DNA verified canine program compliments legislative changes and helps to discourage the mistreatment of dogs. BioPet has the ability to check that samples submitted by breeders are unique and not duplicates of existing dogs. BioPet’s compliance program will periodically compare registered dogs to ensure that breeders are honest when enrolling dogs. At a minimal cost incurred by the breeder, BioPet can offer both industry and the consumer a computerised registry of dogs and the tools to track a dog to its origins.
Compliance and Estimated Costs
There exists a need for a long, term permanent solution around a controllable system of dog ownership in the UK with accountability at its core. There clearly exists a fundamental challenge with lobbying on behalf of the pet industry to maintain loose regulation. In addition, the animal welfare charities continue to work mainly to achieve their own individual agendas lessening the likelihood of real change being achieved. Advances in animal genetics and veterinary science should be at the heartbeat of any new approach, and hope springs eternal that with a new Government in place someone will take this whole sorry affair by the scruff of the neck and implement the necessary change that is required – not for the benefit of any industry but for the benefit of the dogs themselves – after all the UK is a nation of dog lovers and long may that continue.
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council is leading a new way in combating dog fouling as it becomes the first UK council to introduce "PooPrints" dog poo DNA testing
Inconsiderate dog owners in London are being given paws for thought, as a London Borough becomes the first local authority in Britain to introduce dog poo DNA testing to encourage errant owners to clean up their acts and promote a cleaner, greener community.
Rather appropriately, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has become the first council in the UK to introduce the DNA sequencing expertise of PooPrints. The brainchild of Tennessee-based company BioPet Vet Lab “matches the mess” for communities across 45 states of America, as well as in Canada and in trial programmes in Israel, Singapore and now the UK.
Leader of London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council Cllr Darren Rodwell said:
“We are the first Council in the country to get really tough on dog mess and pet owners who do not act in a socially responsible way. The vast majority of dog owners in Barking and Dagenham are socially responsible but unfortunately a selfish few think it’s ok to not clean up after their pet.
“Dog mess not only spoils our streets - it’s also a health hazard and especially to young children. It’s why we are using this innovative approach in making a cleaner, healthier and better Barking and Dagenham."
The innovative approach will be unveiled as part of a Dog Fouling Forum, entitled “Leading a New Way', taking place at Barking Learning Centre on 28 April from 1pm to 3.30pm. Councillor Darren Rodwell, the Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, will open the forum before guest speakers including Keep Britain Tidy, the Kennel Club, and PooPrints UK license holders, Streetkleen give key addresses about how to combat dog fouling.
An open discussion exploring how to foster positive dog ownership and civic pride will then follow. Members of the public are being encouraged to join the debate on Twitter by tagging their opinions about dog fouling with the hashtag #LeadingaNewWay.
PooPrint UK's DNA dog waste management technology could potentially be used in conjunction with new legislation, known as Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO), to clamp down on errant dog fouling. Councils can now enforce a PSPO on any public space within its area – including public parks, cemeteries and beaches – if they believe that certain anti-social behaviours (like dog fouling) could have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of others in that locality.
Dog owners frequenting these areas could be encouraged to have their dog's DNA registered with PooPrints UK. The process works by taking a painless cheek swab from the dog, which is sent to BioPet's PooPrints laboratory and the individual dog's profile is then added to the DNA World Pet Registry. If an owner fails to pick up after their pooch, a quick test on a faeces sample can be traced back to their registered dog with 99.9% accuracy.
Welsh biotech company, Streetkleen, is rolling out PooPrints UK on behalf of US firm, BioPet Vet Lab. Streetkleen Managing Director, Gary Downie, believes that the combination of DNA testing and potential PSPO enforcements could be the most effective means of ensuring that dog owners are held accountable for their dog's actions.
Mr Downie said: “Dog waste is a significant problem on Britain's streets. It poses an underestimated threat to our health, particularly that of our children, as well as the environment and the local economy. Local authorities are creaking beneath the financial and administrative burden of cleaning up after inconsiderate dog owners. But with PooPrints there is no place to hide. The US, and other countries, have experienced reductions in dog fouling by as much as 90% after introducing this programme.
“For the vast majority of responsible dog owners this should pose no problem at all. In fact, we believe that the minimal cost involved in the DNA sequencing process will pose value for money when the reckless minority of dog owners are brought to task and public spaces in Barking and Dagenham become cleaner, greener and more pleasant environments for everyone.”
The Pet Food Manufacturer's Association (PFMA) estimated that there were around nine million pet dogs in the UK in 2014, with nearly a quarter of all households (24%) owning a canine companion. The natural consequence is an incredible 1,000 tonnes of faeces produced every day, with much of it thought to be deposited in public areas.
A recent report by Keep Britain Tidy suggests that the hidden cost of littering is as much as £1billion a year in England alone. Even back in 2005, a staggering £22 million (up to £100,000 per authority) was estimated to go towards dog waste collection, disposal and related costs – like dedicated dog waste bins, street cleansing, enforcement activities, signage and public communications – according to The Waste Improvement Network.
The human cost is just as high. Toxocariasis is an infection caused by roundworm parasites, called Toxocara, found in the faeces of dogs, cats and in contaminated soil. If ingested, the roundworm eggs hatch into larvae that penetrate through the walls of the digestive tract and, in extreme cases, can migrate to the eyes and cause serious sight problems. Whilst the number of cases is low, studies have shown that up to three per cent of the UK population have antibodies to the parasite through ingesting it at some point.
Dog fouling is one of the most pressing and emotive anti-social problems nationwide and is one of the most common causes of complaints to MP's, local authorities and local councillors. Four in 10 people consider it to be a problem in their area and believe that it is on the rise. Dog waste also poses a significant economic impact by deterring inward investment and tourism to an area.
Recent advances in sequencing technology have now made DNA analysis an affordable solution to tackle anti-social dog ownership. The cost can be as low as £15 to £30 per dog, depending on the size of the programme and number of dogs registered. Once a programme is set up, the only additional costs are for “matching the mess” analyses, which become a rarity. The cost for waste matching is between £55 to £70, which local authorities can recoup through fixed penalty notices.
Notes to Editors
· Eric Mayer, Director of Business Development at BioPet Vet Lab, said: “Our aim with PooPrints is to make every city cleaner, and greener, one poop pile at a time. PooPrints has resulted in a significant reduction in dog waste in over one thousand communities in the US, and we are excited to partner with Streetkleen and LBBD to bring our proven DNA pet waste management program to the UK.”
· About Barking and Dagenham Council:
· About Streetkleen and PooPrints UK: The ethos of Streetkleen is to combine sustainability and innovation to help individuals, organisations and local government adopt a new approach to an age old problem - dog waste. New venture, PooPrints UK, “matches the mess” through DNA analysis. For cities with thousands (if not millions) of dogs, the only foolproof tool in enforcement of dog waste policy is through positive identification with DNA. PooPrints UK provides the evidence needed to enforce local dog policy, leaving public open spaces clean and welcoming to dog owners and non-dog owners alike. For more information, please visit www.streetkleen.co.uk.
· About BioPet Vet Lab: BioPet Vet Lab is a biotechnology company specializing in animal genomics located in Knoxville, Tennessee. BioPet’s research and development group explores genetic science in order to offer new tests that can be used to improve the healthcare and quality of life for our beloved pets. For additional information about BioPet Vet Lab and the PooPrints programme, visit their website at www.biopetvetlab.com or www.pooprints.com.
· #LeadingaNewWay: Members of the public are being encouraged to join the debate on Twitter by tagging their opinions about dog fouling with the hashtag #LeadingaNewWay.
· PFMA Pet Population 2014 (2014) [online] http://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-population-2014.
· Campbell, F. (2007) People Who Litter: ENCAMS Research Report, ENCAMS, Wigan, UK.
· Sherrington, C., Darrah, C. and Hann, S. (2014) Exploring the Indirect Costs of Litter in England, Keep Britain Tidy Research Report, Wigan, UK.
· Atenstaedt, R.L. and Jones, S. (2011) Interventions to prevent dog fouling: a systematic review of evidence, Public Health, Vol. 125, No. 2.
· Waste Improvement Network (WIN) (2011) WIN Focus 12 Cleaning Up Dog Waste [online] http://www.win.org.uk.
BBC (2013) Eight radical solutions to the problem of dog mess [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-
The most organized and regulated societies in Europe have a comparatively high density of pet dogs per inhabitant. Contrary to the general trend in Western societies towards raising standards of hygiene in everyday life, pedestrian areas and urban parks tend to be dog fouling hotspots. Unlike other nonhuman animals, pet dogs are often walked to public places for the sole reason to defecate. This article aims to explore a variety of dog owners’ strategies when dealing with excrement while walking their dogs. This is done to highlight the relational ties between dogs and humans that are manifested in strategies for dealing with a highly important ‘actant’ in the collective: poop. By so doing, the observed varieties of inattentively pooping in public are categorized into three main types in order to highlight different forms of knowing or not knowing about excrement in emerging associations between dog and dog owner through the medium of poop.
In medieval times in Europe, human excretion was not subject to the demands of privacy. Today, the water closet immediately flushes all things fecal out of sight and smell, as if such products never existed at all (cf. Inglis 2001; Molotch and Norén 2010; Wright 2000). After all, excreta and excretion in general are regarded as unhygienic and dirty. However, while human excrement and most of the waste produced by other domestic animals have been removed beyond the range of human eyes and noses, dog feces – especially in urban centers – have not.1 Given that, in most cases, human excrement is covered by water and then hidden from view in the waste pipe as soon as it leaves the human body, dog poop is the most visible type of excrement that humans encounter in everyday life, especially in urban areas (a temporary exception may be the sight and smell of baby poop for new parents besides domestic animal waste in the country on farms). Especially during the summer months the smell of dog poop wafts through the hot city air. The question arises, then, why it is that human waste is banished from sight and smell while canine fecal waste is permitted – or at least tolerated – in many highly ‘sanitized’ societies, particularly in public spaces such as urban parks and sidewalks. Although birds, rabbits, cats or other animals also defecate in public, these are normally not walked to a public place or even other people’s property for the sole reason to do just that: poop. In that respect pet dogs are an exception among other domestic as well as ‘wild’ animals living in human societies.
Consider a few numbers. Every day some 55 tons of dog excrement are deposited on the streets of Berlin alone (Kneist 2011), while dogs in the US are said to produce 10 million tons of poop each year (Browdie 2012). For the year 2000, Webley and Siviter reported that in Paris alone US$6 million have been absorbed for the removal of dog feces as part of park maintenance. Extant data on trends in dog ownership in different countries vary quite considerably. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states that some 78 million dogs are owned in the United States, which is consistent with statistics published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.2 This would mean that the average dog population is almost 40% of the human population, that is, more than one dog for every three people in the US. For Germany, various sources state that less than 10% of each household owns a dog but that more than 15% of the population over 14 years of age lives with one.3In France almost 40% of each household owns a dog. There are 1.5 million dogs in the Netherlands, and some 90% of dog owners have at least one dog. In general, it is agreed that the number of dogs per inhabitant in Western countries has been rising significantly since World War II (cf. Derr 2004).
Traditionally, the popularity of dogs in Western countries is related to the fact that people are living longer. However, in addition to the elderly and retirees of today, it is increasingly young people who want to own a dog, due in part to the growth in popularity of hobbies such as jogging and walking (where having a dog as a companion has become part of daily normality) and in part to the phenomenon of counting dogs as quasi-family members in what are often single person households or patchwork families. In this context of greater popularity, dogs have been researched extensively as best friend and companion for humans in general (Haraway 2003; Sanders 1999) as well as with regard to their importance, for example, in shaping family and home life (Power 2008). They have also been researched with regard to their connection with religious beliefs (Menache 1997), the spatial conflicts between humans and dogs (Holmberg 2013), their role as a perceived nuisance (Fielding 2008), and the broader issues of risk raised when humans encounter dogs, including more general issues regarding dogs in modern society per se (Lodge 2001). However, although dog feces are occasionally discussed in the media in terms of being a source of groundwater pollution and, more specifically, a carrier of various diseases (cf. Wells 2006), the question of how poop disposal is actually done on the ground and how it often is kept separate from the overall issue of dog ownership has so far not received any scholarly attention. Among the few studies I found after extensive database search is one by Webley and Siviter (2000) and a one page summary by Arhant and Troxler (2009), both on the demographics of ‘responsible and irresponsible’ dog owners (cf. Wells 2006). Not surprisingly, Arhant and Troxler mention disgust as a main factor for not picking up the feces. In order not be disgusted, owners try to ‘unknow’ about poop: what you do not know will not disgust you. However, none of these studies questions the successful strategies and varieties of dog walking and pooping practices in societies with otherwise high standards of hygiene in everyday life.
To be sure, at first glance, dog walking seems straightforward. Walk the dog, let it poop, then walk the dog home. But this simple description raises a fundamental question: why it is that the poop falling out of the dog is not taken care of, and if it is, how exactly is this done? Decisions made at this juncture of the dog walking process may have a profound impact on the result of how the excrements are disposed. This article is to be understood as a first exploration of some of the habits involved in walking one’s dog by exploring some of the strategies available for dealing with dog poop in public. In particular, the article examines the practices enacted by both dog owners and, albeit to a lesser degree, by those who do not own dogs of strategically diverting their attention away from the fact that, on many sidewalks and in many public parks, dog poop is increasingly to be seen and smelt. This seems quite remarkable given the general hype of cleanliness in relation to the human body, human fear of infection from almost any source (human or nonhuman), the importance of wearing clean clothing, and the habit of having a daily bath or shower (at least once) in many countries (cf. Geels 2005; Shove 2003, 93–116; Twigg 2001). Whereas the presence of human feces on the street is widely considered in the West as a throwback to medieval times in Europe, the depositing of fecal matter by dogs appears to be accepted as a normal aspect of habits and practices, often with little resistance from humans – despite the fact that occasionally dog feces in urban environments are an issue in public debate in Europe and North America. Educational events and information leaflets on how to dispose poop can be found in most European cities. In some cities dog feces are being flagged with the respective countries’ flag (see Figure 1 from the city of Leipzig in Germany). In Poland, even primary school pupils receive little flags to mark the piles on pavements and in parks.4 This article seeks to provide a preliminary frame for analyzing the relationship between humans and dogs in order to shed light on the strategies that facilitate the seemingly ‘anomalous’ strategy of dealing with dog feces in public by allowing it to remain where it has been dropped – namely in the middle of human societies
The first step in this is to introduce some conceptual framework, most notably insights from Actor-network theory (ANT) and the sociology of ignorance. I shall then use elements of these frameworks to illustrate some of the dynamics inherent in contemporary strategies involving relations between humans, dogs, and poop. This will be used to point to an important phenomenon that helps actors to maintain their practices, or strategies, of being secretly aware and publicly not aware of the presence of one important ‘actant’ in the network – poop – and of how it came to be there.
Dog walking and the importance of not knowing
An important conception of ANT is one in which humans and nonhumans (natural ‘things,’ technologies, or animal droppings) are connected in what Bruno Latour and others refer to as associations and collectives (Latour 2005; cf. Blok and Jensen 2011; Michael 2000; Passoth, Peuker, and Schillmeier 2012). ANT’s notion of collectives between human and nonhuman ‘actants’ can thus be a useful framework for analyzing the way in which particular connections between social and non-social things become established and other issues simultaneously come to be excluded from further inquiry.5 The term actant was introduced from semiotics into ANT in order to create a common language for grasping human and non-human actors and to make it clear thatmethodologically there will be no a priori differentiation between material things and human actors. For the current paper, Mike Michael’s ideas, informed by ANT, are of central importance. One of Michael’s (2000) goals is to invent new concepts, such as that of the co(a)gent. This is a new character consisting of both a human and a nonhuman component. Michael’s term co(a)gent is a useful starting point in the present inquiry insofar as it can help to throw into relief the nature of new hybrid compositions between humans, dogs, and poop. As Michael (2000, 42) explains: ‘Hybrids entail co-agents in a melee of co-agency.’ A co(a)gent, for example, can be found in what Michael termed the Hudogledog. A Hudogledog is a ‘human-dog-leash-dog.’ Michael’s Hudogledog stories about human–dog relations can, unsurprisingly, entail the creation of assemblages akin to the well-known Doctor Dolittle character that pulls in different directions – a pushdog-pullmistress, say. They also throw light on the importance of the variable length of the retractable leash for the spatial extent of the Hudogledog. One thing Michael does not touch on, though, is the business dogs and their owners normally do in the park which is, more often than not, a main reason for walking the dog, namely allowing the dog to pee and poop. This is what I now turn to in what follows.
In line with some elements of ANT and relational or process-oriented sociology (Archer 2012; Crossley 2010; Powell and Dépelteau 2013) as well as recent strands of practice theory (especially as developed by Elizabeth Shove and colleagues, cf. Shove, Pantzar, and Watson 2012), the classical antinomy between structuralism and approaches that focus on the individual as a social actor is being resolved by conceptually connecting the interplay between structural elements and non-social entities (things, material ‘resistances,’ etc.) and individual ideas.6 Practices are thus based on the different relations that lead to certain associations. These also include accidental ones or relations that happen in passing, something John Law (2012) refers to as ‘collateral realities.’ In general, strategies of walking one’s dog so that it can do its business include the competence of knowing when and how to hold a dog on a leash, where to let the dog run, pee, and poop, and how to make the dog go in a different direction. The material involved is not only the leash and the dog’s body but especially the poop itself as well as the places and the surfaces (e.g. grass) on which the poop is deposited, and perhaps even displayed for passers by. This activity meanders between presenting oneself to passers by with a well-behaved dog, a simple excuse for taking a walk by oneself, and perhaps even a strategy used by the dog owners to express their own freedom by permitting the dog to poop wherever it wants.
In any such strategies, actors deal with the unknown. Unlike in classical approaches to knowledge in society, where ignorance is thought of as the absence of knowledge, more recently scholars have challenged this assumption, exploring the ways in which ignorance has a social life of its own (cf. Beck and Wehling 2012; Bleicher 2012; Gross 2010; McGoey 2012). Central to this strand of thinking is the possibility of moving towards an enhanced capacity to cope with ignorance. Recent research has further augmented this strand by showing that in order to do something successfully an actor needs a known residue of ignorance, which can be referred to as non-knowledge (cf. Gross 2012), to avoid the ambiguity and negative connotations of the term ignorance. Thus understood, non-knowledge should not generally be understood as ignorance, unawareness, or as the mere absence of knowledge, but rather as a specific kind of knowledge about what is not known (cf. Gross 2010). This understanding also departs from the view in which ignorance is seen as necessarily detrimental; instead, it analyses how non-knowledge can even serve as a productive strategic resource (Gross 2010; McGoey 2012; Roberts 2013; Vitek and Jackson 2008).
Central to the strategy used by dog owners while walking their dogs, letting them poop, and cleaning up after them only to drop the bag later on is that they apparently take ignorance and non-knowledge actively into account. One can speculate that this is based on a process of weighing up its strategic outcome when deciding whether or not to clean up the dog’s droppings. In the following, I will elaborate further on the relationship between dogs and their owners paying attention to the strategies involved in permitting a dog to poop wherever it wants.
Observing ‘irresponsible’ dog walkers
The world can be divided into those who own dogs and those who do not. While some dog owners leave the dog’s excrement behind on pavements, in parks, or green spaces, others clean up after the dog’s business is done. According to self‐report measures in a survey in the UK, 59% of dog owners clean up after their dogs (Webley and Siviter 2000). For Northern Ireland, a weak majority (53.5%) of owners that clean up their dogs faeces has been found (Wells 2006). Whether the self-reported claims are reliable or not, in the following I am interested in the remaining varieties of (seemingly) ‘irresponsible’ owners that are tolerant of fouling.
Around 2003, I started observing dog walkers and their practices of walking the dog and taking notes about different kinds of relations to dog excrement. I often did this when I walked one of my three kids in a stroller in nearby parks, often later in the day so they could fall asleep more easily. In this sense, some of the results I present in this paper are based on what Martin Bulmer (1982) referred to as retrospective participant observation. At the time I decided to do some more systematic observations of dog walkers, the human–dog interaction, and the relations between the dog walkers and other people and to write a paper on it, I had been observing them for some 10 years in different cities in Germany and abroad (we moved five times between 2002 and 2013). Thus most of the observations were made during leisure time. However, in the summer term from April to September 2012 I was guest professor at Martin Luther University in the neighbouring city of Halle (Saale) so I was commuting and taking the train in the morning and later in the afternoon on weekdays. On the way to the train station I had to walk some 20 minutes along urban green space, a road construction site with fences and flashing lights as well as long pavements crowded with commuters such as me and dog walkers. In order to get more observation data I left the house in the morning some 15 minutes earlier to walk to the train station slowly so I could observe the dog walking activities with more time as a covert observer. After this I entered the train and had some 40 minutes time to sit down to write my field notes. I did the same when I returned in the evening, taking field notes when home. Whenever possible I walked some 20–25 meters behind each dog walker in order to witness a dog fouling. In this way, my approach to dog walking habits is what Kusenbach (2003) has referred to as ‘go-along,’ the practice of accompanying things going on as part of daily routines in order to capture expressions, emotions, and interpretations that informants normally keep to themselves or will not talk about. Even more so, my few attempts to ask dog walkers about their habit were often met with aggression towards the questioner (‘mind your own business,’ ‘don’t you have anything else to do with your time?’ were among the more friendly statements) so that a more silent go-along became the method of choice. In that six months in 2012, on average, I was able to observe 10–12 dog-owner collectives talking a walk in the park or on the greenbelt to the train station. I normally went to the station in the morning between 7:30 and 8:30 am. During this time the park was almost exclusively frequented by dog walkers, probably because the dogs were taken out before the owners went to work. In contrast, in the afternoon, the green space was more crowded, but mainly with playing kids as well as walkers with no dogs. For the most part, it was during the morning hour that dog owners did not clean up after their dog although they had been watching their dog defecating. In the afternoon, most dogs were leashed and dog owners appeared much more attentive to excrement removal than in the morning hour. This was most interesting since after a few weeks I knew most of the walkers and their dogs from seeing. Those that did not clean up in the morning did regularly clean up in the afternoon, those who did clean up in the morning also cleaned up in the afternoon. To support my observations, I have also closely followed the public debate about cleaning dog’s poop in local media and Internet blogs.
‘Where else should my dog poop?’
When following dogs and their owners closely, the dog – whether on a leash or not – almost seems to be an extension of the owner, and since the poop coming out of the dog is part of this realm, the act of its being deposited is part of a well-protected assemblage. Indeed this networked relationship is almost so close that the two appear as one, as Mike Michael suggested with his Hudogledog. When I asked dog owners why they let their dogs poop here and not somewhere else, a sentiment often heard is that ‘when my dog has to poop, it has to poop. So I let it find a suitable place.’ At one point, a dog owner countered my question in the following way: ‘You have to realize, you are not alone on this planet. Animals have rights, too.’ Along this line, of course, owners often claim that poop is natural and after all, dogs simply do what other animals in nature also do. And indeed, as Webley and Siviter (2000) show, many owners perceive dog feces as natural waste that is biodegradable. Thus understood, poop is pure nature.
Another sentiment points to a lack of reflection, that is, pretending not to even know what the problem may be: ‘Where else should my dog poop? After all, it has to poop somewhere.’ Statements such as this frequently occurred when another person shouts at the dog (not the owner) to move on and not to poop here – even if ‘here’ is the person’s own lawn. The dog seems to have a right to poop wherever it wants and the dog owner is supposed to defend this right. Poop is thus an important link in the networked relations between dogs and humans.
Picture the scene of one of my observations where a pensioner out walking his dog stops to rebuke another visitor to the park (without a dog) who has just thrown a yoghurt carton into a bush. This scene and several variations of it have been personally observed, incidentally. This rebuke – presumably intended to prevent the pollution of the environment7 – occurs, however, just as the pensioner’s dog is depositing a huge pile of excrement on the ground not far from where the yoghurt carton is lying. The dog-owning pensioner appears to be completely oblivious to the notion that a pooping dog may also be considered an agent of pollution. Thus, unlike a yoghurt carton, dog poop appears to count as a special part of nature for many current dog owners – or at least as something that in some sense ‘belongs’ to the place where it has been delivered. However, pooping on the lawn and knowing that neighbours or other people watch the act of the poop falling out of the dog may lead to a pretension of the dog owner that he or she does neither see the pooping dog nor anybody else watching. When dog owners look away from their pooping dog, they are able to claim afterwards that they did not know it had happened – a useful defense in case a neighbour or passer by decides to reprimand them.
Not paying attention to cleaning up one’s dog poop can be assumed as a type of strategic non-knowledge, that is, to pretend that to know or to reflect what it means to poop in public is considered either unimportant or perhaps even detrimental. The strategic element entails the desire to avoid having to deal with the issue seriously, since it would perhaps harm the close relationship between the owner and their dog and possibly even call into question the general importance of the dog as a friend that helps the owner to stay healthy – thanks to daily walks (cf. Johnson, Beck, and McCune 2011). Thus understood, dog owners letting their dogs poop in public without cleaning up after them can be theorized as a case of strategic non-knowing in the sense that the act of pooping should look as if the dog owner does not know about it.
When a dog owner uses a bag to dispose of their dog’s poop, he or she often seems to take good care that somebody else is watching. Jackson even reports this phenomenon in a public dog park in Northern California, where dog owners appeared less attentive to excrement removal at less busy times. Some ‘actively looked away when their dog was making a mess’ (Jackson2012, 267). At least one can say, as I have observed many times, that right before the dog owner grabs for the poop with the bag she or he takes a look over the shoulder perhaps to make sure that he or she can be rendered a ‘good’ dog owner. It was at this point that I as a ‘go-along’ ethnographer occasionally entered the life world of the dog owner when he or she spotted me and took me as a point of reference or ‘social control’ to make sure their understandings of appropriate behaviour for dogs in public places is registered properly. In turn, if the poop is not cleaned up after the dog has done its business, the owner will sometimes pretend that he or she has not seen the dog pooping – for example, by talking earnestly into their cell phone or using an iPad. This could be read as a kind of civil inattention, as Goffman (1971) once prominently coined it – the key difference being that the aim of being inattentive in such a case is not to establish a respectful distance to anyone nearby; rather, the aim is to conceal the fact that one end of the Hudogledog (to use Michael’s term) has done something that may be considered objectionable by such a person, who may then express their objection to the other end of the hybrid. In other words, the dog’s business is done as if one part (the dog owner) is unaware of it.
Shit trees, wrapped poop, and natural waste
Another common strategy is the phenomenon of dog poop that has been scooped up from a lawn in a plastic bag being discarded by dog owners. Such bags are then to be found not only in trash bins but very often right next to them (even if the bin is not overflowing) and sometimes simply thrown onto the ground in some random spot. Smithers (2012) has reported that the biggest single threat to the health and safety of beach visitors in the UK is posed by dog waste in plastic bags left on the ground or elsewhere. Even more so, in many parks it is possible to spot plastic bags filled with poop hanging from small trees, the branches of bushes, or on top of fences.8 Collins (2012) even describes this practice by dog owners as ‘bagging dirt and leaving it hanging like “baubles” from hedgerows.’ Consequently, the term ‘shit trees’ recently entered the Online Urban Dictionary(urbandictionary.com) defining these as ‘Trees with bags of dog shit hanging from them’ and specifying that ‘when an owner of a dog takes it for a walk, bags up the dog shit and throws it into a tree where it proceeds to dangle from the branches, therefore producing shit trees.’ In a poll on ‘Do you hang your dog poop bags in trees?’ (www.social-anxiety-community.org) over 15% of all dog owners (3.3% of all respondents) stated they have done this because they think it looks pretty. Nobody stated that they do it because they are lazy. After all, blogs and debates on the web show that there is some intention ascribable to dog owners’ behaviour. One dog owner ironically even pointed out to me that the beauty of dog poop hanging from trees is something that only true dog lovers can appreciate. Thus at least one can say there is an agenda for hanging poop in trees, fences, and bushes.
Vidya Kauri (2012) from the Canadian newspaper National Post is also stunned by some of her dog walking fellow citizens and explains as follows: ‘It’s almost like they pick it up and they feel proud of themselves, and then they just don’t do that extra step. But because they’ve picked it up, there’s no guilt in leaving it.’ A park visitor is stunned and reacts with irony: ‘Maybe some people think there’s a poop fairy that comes along and takes it.’ Another park visitor has a more telling explanation when she says that dog owners generally do not want to pick up after their pet, but they feel like they have to, so they rebel against this by making others look at what they have picked up. It almost seems as though the dog owners concerned want to tell their fellow citizens something by presenting the dog poop nicely wrapped on pavement sidewalk or up in a tree. Perhaps it is important to them to be seen to be doing what is expected of them while at the same time rejecting this social expectation and expressing their scorn towards those who demand it by parodying the act (though only when they can be sure no one is looking – apart from the dog, of course). This can be explained as a way of staying true to their dog’s ‘nature’ and the relative liberty to poop in public wherever they want yet without offending the expectations of non-dog owners nearby. The offence is only caused later on when the poop cannot easily be attributed to a particular dog (owner), thereby potentially inciting the antipathy of non-dog owners towards all dog owners. It may be a type of mischievousness by the dog owners.
This can be seen as an act of strengthening the association between dog and dog owner through the medium of poop. It is the competence of skilfully keeping the poop away from other people’s sight and smell, only to allow it to reappear with a vengeance – anonymously – later on. While the poop is laboriously and skilfully wrapped, it is then connected with some compensational activity (such as convenience due to missing trash bins). Thus the poop lying on the pavement nicely wrapped up in a plastic bag can be understood as a form of collective communication to the dog-less outside world: ‘Look, I tried, but….’ It may even be understood as a further step in identity formation among dog owners, who are thus able to demonstrate that they can leave their (dogs’) waste wherever they want – at least when no one is watching. Dogs may not be able to wait until no one is watching, so the owners have to pretend to clean up after them. Subsequently the wrapped poop can be placed in an even more strategically visible spot. In other words, by wrapping the poop and displaying it later on, the owners may show even more how engrossed they are in the task of cleaning up the mess, thereby defending the natural right of the dog to defecate wherever and whenever it wants.
Furthermore, once the poop is bagged and thrown into a bush, it will not rot easily (as it would without a bag). Instead it will most likely stay there for weeks and perhaps even months. The dog owners have then created a memorial to their belief that their dog’s nature should not be regulated. This memorial, or statement of belief, can be seen as part of sustaining the practice of dog pooping in public, namely by extending the period of ‘freshness’ and visibility of the poop longer than would be the case if it were simply allowed to rot on the grass. Thus understood, several elements in the dog-poop-owner hybrid have been reshaped on different scales.
Let us now take a closer look at the different types of strategies that develop when it comes to pooping in public.
Changing collectives: from walking the dog to preserving excrement
here may have been a time when owning a dog in inner city areas was an exception. Up until the 1970s, keeping dogs as household pets was relatively rare (cf. Franklin 1999). White-collar workers did not own dogs if they lived in cities. Owning a dog at that time meant that one had the time to own it and take it for a walk – unlike farmers or shepherds whose dogs were and are generally working dogs. Walking a dog in a city was a kind of performance that involved taking a stroll in places where perhaps the dog owner wished to be seen. Doing so merely entailed the skills to find one’s way around, that is, to find a green space and to be able to control the dog (on a leash or, if the dog is very small, by carrying it) and lead it in the right direction. The material involved was the dog leash and, obviously, the dog itself. This assemble can be compared to Michael’s (2000) Hudogledog, and which I call the traditional type in Table 1 (Varieties of Defecating Strategies).
With the rapid increase in dog ownership in urban areas and the rise of an accompanying discourse about increasing amounts of dog poop in parks after people had taken their dogs for a walk, many dog owners were at pains to show that they were responsible dog owners (see, e.g. the discussions in Brandow 2008). Up until the late 1990's, poop scooping was not perceived as a fundamental civic duty, and indeed in many places it is still not regarded as such today. In the places where it has become an unwritten rule or a civic duty, the competence involved now also includes using (usually) a plastic bag to wrap up the waste without touching the poop directly with one’s fingers. If my observations from above are correct, then this skill also includes doing this as often as possible when many people are watching the performance of ‘successful poop bagging.’ In addition to the materiality of the leash, an important material now is the bag, which also serves as a glove to grab the most important material in this practice. This also includes knowledge about the firmness of the dog’s stool on any given day: the dog owner needs sufficient experience to foresee whether the dog’s excrement is firm or soft and thus how it needs to be grabbed. If the dog has runny poop, skilful dog owners, I observed, reacted quickly and treated the poop as pee, that is, again pretending skilfully that he or she has not seen the dog defecate. The bag in their hands then deliberately went back into their pockets.
However, if the interpretations made above are reasonable then the development of dog poop practice has recently taken another turn – the furtive turn, as I call it here (see Table 1). In addition to finding his or her way to the park, the dog owner still needs to know how to wrap up the dog’s excrement, how to do so when many people are watching, and also how to skilfully get rid of the freshly filled bag when no one is watching. Some dog owners drop the bag in a garbage can in the park or even bring it back home and, supposedly, dispose of it there. However, some dog owners deposit the bag in a special and, where possible, highly visible place. Besides the phenomenon of ‘shit trees,’ I have even observed over the course of the last few years that wrapped dog poop is displayed near or on fences of construction sites, especially on top of construction fences that do have flashing lights. Although I never saw anyone actually hanging up the bags there and I do not know yet on how to interpret this, maybe the bags are hung there so they get special attention even during their night stage via ‘disco flashlights’ or the like? Be that as it may, ‘presenting’ wrapped dog poop in visible places has been an issue in many places (see Collins 2012; Kauri 2012; Smithers 2012 as well as numerous debates on the Internet). Even the UK Marine Conservation Society has reported that the volume of dog excrement wrapped in bags and left on the ground rose 11% between 2010 and 2011, while Scotland recorded an increase of as much as 71% in a single year.9 The increased appearance of dog poop in plastic bags found by the side of a pavement has fostered debates on numerous web blogs.10
The development of wrapping poop and then presenting it wrapped appears to be a key part of the reshaping of the whole collective, namely, as a means of displaying civic liberty, that of the dog (to poop where it wants) and that of the owner (to clean up, but also to drop where he or she wants). Note that part of the collective, the dog, has remained immutable in its freedom: the dog is allowed to do what it wants and to follow the call of nature at any time. In this way, the range of competences by the dog owner is greatly expanded. Although the competence to skillfully use a bag to wrap excrement in is still needed, another skill has developed alongside this. After carrying it around for a while, it is the ‘re-utilization’ of secretly displaying the dog’s waste more visibly, such as positioning it on the sidewalk or hanging it higher up on the branch of a tree or even on the top of a fence (see Figure 2).
Public pooping through the strategic usage of nonknowledge
Poop on the sidewalk or anywhere else in public can be seen as a certain type of expression of the owner’s very relationship to their best friend. The process of communication with fellow humans is conducted partly through the dog’s act of pooping and the medium of poop. It serves as a visual and olfactory (and, if stepped on, a tactile) conduit of communication. But there is more. In this view, it appears that it is the natural right of the dog to poop (and pee) wherever it wants; it can thus be seen as a boundary worker between civilization and wilderness on behalf of the human dog owner. This in itself points to a very intimate understanding of the dog by the owner, as dogs then become mediators for humans between wild nature and tamed culture.
The aforementioned strategies can be interpreted to mean that both causal and communicative attributions can alternate within the practices and the reshaping of certain elements. The dog owners, although they may know their dogs well, always have to wait and see where their ‘best friends’ will do their business. They do not know in advance when their neighbours or other passers by will be watching them and their dog. Perhaps one can say that this networked collective between dogs and owners is characterized by a situation in which the owners find themselves in a reality constituted by double contingency. However, unlike in the classical notion of double contingency as introduced by Talcott Parsons (1951, 6) and further developed by Niklas Luhmann (1995, 103–136), who both used the concept to account for the uncertain possibility of social interaction, I will extend the idea also to non-social interaction. After all, dog owners know neither where exactly the dog will do its business nor what their best strategy will be for where and how to get rid of the poop, as they do not know whether, when, or where other humans will be observing them. The owners thus seem to proceduralize this contingency through the strategic usage of non-knowledge. After all, this moment of contingency may give dog owners that extra kick they need.
Of course, if dog poop is accepted and established via the strategic goal of secretly depositing faeces in visible places (as in strategy No. 3 of Table 1), this will likewise call for new strategies and habits with new elements added to it by other park users and will certainly change the way parks and green spaces are used by non-dog owners as well. It is to be expected that the projected increase in the number of dog owners and the amount of waste thus created in the future will certainly also become a crucial factor in new patterns of the use of public spaces such as parks.
Outlook: the return of the repressed?
Whereas humans’ excretory manners today take place in very small and narrow places, away from the sight, hearing, and smell of other humans, dogs, by contrast, are allowed to run free and pee and poop wherever they want to in open spaces or in parks. Norén (2010) has noted that, while New York’s taxi drivers are sometimes forced to pee in public due to the lack of public toilets, dogs are free to pee wherever they want without anybody taking offence. Despite the fact that it remains only speculation at this point in time, perhaps it is the freedom taken away from humans to poop in nature that encourages them to project this freedom onto their best friends, who now are entitled to do what humans in modern society are no longer permitted to do. Future research may have to focus more deeply on the possible connection between the banishing of all things fecal in everyday life and the greater freedoms granted to dogs to poop wherever they want.
What can be said is that walking the dogs and taking care of faeces has provided a case of analysis of the ordering of world in mundane strategies via strategically knowing or not knowing about excrement. Like other activities, picking or not picking up dogs’ droppings is dependent on several elements in the collective including to strategically know how to use a plastic bag to wrap excrement as part of the expression that one is a responsible citizen and dog owner. Framed in this way, different strategies of getting rid of dog poop not only have careers of their own (e.g. from responsible scooping to designing ‘shit trees’) but also deliver room for new interpretations, attributions of meanings of different activities, and well-founded speculations.
This exploratory study thus suggests that observing activities and strategies of defecating may provide new insight into human–animal relationships by exploring the role of droppings. An important prerequisite for successfully displaying poop and for diverting attention away from the fact that dog poop is increasingly to be seen in public is that the actors involved are skilful enough to attest to non-knowledge about the production of excrements by their best friends.
1. The situation in North America is somewhat different from that of the UK and continental Europe due to debates that emerged in the 1970s to inform New York’s famous ‘Poop Scoop Law’ (cf. Brandow 2008). However, since the canine population in the US is still rising as well, the challenge of coping with feces seems destined not to go away.
2. See the respective websites of the two associations: http://www.aspca.org and http://www.americanpetproducts.org.
3. According to www.mapsofworld.com, the top 10 countries for dog population figures are the US, Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, South Africa, France, Italy, Poland, and Thailand. However, these numbers also include estimates for stray dogs, so it is difficult to gauge the number of dogs owned per inhabitant. See also http://www.stadthunde.com andhttp://www.deathrowpets.net/PDFs/Update_5/A%20Different%20Perspective.pdf.
4. I owe this story to Maria Świątkiewicz-Mośny, who also pointed out to me that shit in Polish is kupa and kupa also means ‘heaps of’ and ‘lots of.’ So a lot of the public debate on the topic focuses on this play with words. Further info on Polish school kids’ educational program on poop can be found here: http://rudaslaska.naszemiasto.pl/artykul/galeria/sztuczna-kupa-w-rudzie-slaskiej-na-rynku-zdjecia,2204974,t,id.html (last accessed, September 3, 2014).
5. An excellent discussion on different ways of conceptualizing nonhumans as actants can be found in Sayes (2014). For critical debates on actants and ANT as regards its usefulness for environmental sociology, see Voss and Peukert (2006).
6. Practice theory is a wide field. Normally the origins of this approach are associated with some of the writings of Pierre Bourdieu (esp. Bourdieu 1977). Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory (esp. Giddens 1984) is another important source. Newer strands of practice theory such as the works of Brand (2010), Schatzki (2010), Spaargaren (2011), and Wilhite (2012) also bring the ecological aspects of everyday practices into focus.
7. The question is, however, what are the real intentions of the pensioner? Since I only observed this without talking to the pensioner, I simply assume that he was keen on a plastic-free environment for him and his dog. Of course, motivations for such a behavior can be quite different.
8. See for example http://www.bucksherald.co.uk/news/more-news/latest-hang-up-dog-waste-bags-in-bushes-1-4916736 orhttp://www.sheffieldforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=629421 orhttp://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/february/3/dog_poo.aspx for a selection of the online public debates to be found in the English language. See also BBC News on ‘Bags of dog waste hung from trees’:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/berkshire/8163255.stm. A Google search with the words dog, poop, bushes, and hanging leads to several hundred debates and reports of hanging poop bags all over the world. A Google search with the German words Hundekot, Tüte, and hängen leads to similar results. Discussions with colleagues from Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, and France have led to similar results. A Google search with the French terms chien and Sacs de merde, in addition, delivers many amusing photos, see for example: http://avignon.midiblogs.com/media/02/02/934838066.jpg.
9. See the society’s website at http://www.mcsuk.org/press/view/397.
10. As a blogger on http://exurbanpedestrian.wordpress.com stated: ‘I’m human and no matter from which angle I examine this phenomena, I cannot explain it. You walk your dog. Your dog poops. You go to all the trouble of bringing a plastic bag; wrapping your hand in the bag; picking up the warm poop, tying a knot in the bag; and then you just drop the bag? Why not just leave the poop so it has some hope of biodegrading in the next thousand years? Only aliens could do something so inexplicable.’ Furthermore, a Google search for ‘wrapped dog poo(p)’ leads to numerous debates on ways of depositing wrapped poop in places that are not waste bins.
My dog-adoring friend was out of the door in a flash and storming down the road to confront a neighbour. She had spotted the man allowing his large labrador to foul the narrow pavement of a pretty Devon town – and then leaving the steaming result as a booby-trap for the unwary passer by. She returned flushed with success and panting slightly. “I thought it was him,” she said. “But it’s taken two years to catch him in the act.”
A kind of madness overcomes some dog owners. And sometimes an even greater madness overcomes their victims – like the man who collected an offending mess and smeared it under the owner’s car door handle. Relief (as it were) may be in sight in the form of PooPrints, a service to test the DNA of dog faeces. PooPrints is an import from the United States, where it is used in apartment blocks and retirement complexes. Streetkleen, a Welsh biotech company, has introduced the technology to Britain and is already in talks with local authorities.
According to the pressure group Keep Britain Tidy, there are more than eight million dogs producing more than 1,000 tonnes of mess every day. The annual cost to local authorities of clearing up was estimated way back in 2005 at £22 million. Opponents will protest that “we already have adequate laws”. The problem is not the laws, but enforcing them. I have even seen owners turning a blind eye as their dogs fouled on a supposedly dog-free beach. Being British, no one said a thing. Adam Michael, the Bude man who had to pay £600 in fines and costs in November for failing to clear up after his dog, was a rarity. Mr Michael was caught in the act by a council officer.
Dogs often carry and spread the nasty parasite Toxocara, a major cause of blindness and other unpleasant symptoms in humans. (Cats also carry the parasite, in case you feline friends thought you were getting away with it.) Dogs’ mess may harm more than just our children’s health – it can hardly be good for tourism. Pristine countryside and coastline is the main selling point for West Country tourism, so digging into a doggy-doo while building sand castles on the beach is sure to put off a holiday visitor. A noisy dog lobby will certainly go for the throat over DNA testing. Anyone who dares to criticise out loud is likely to be set upon by a baying pack. But dog fouling is one of the commonest sources of complaints to MPs, councillors and local authorities.
PooPrints, which also operates in Canada, Israel and Singapore, involves setting up a database of pets’ DNA. In parts of America pet owners have voluntarily registered their dogs on the database, though I can’t see that happening here. But it could work as part of a dog licensing scheme. Until 1987 dog owners were required by law to license their animals (and still are in Northern Ireland). You, me and almost everything of significance in our lives requires licensing and registration: why not dogs? Even the RSPCA has lobbied for the return of licences.Not only would it help to trace lost pets, deter irresponsible owners and clean up our parks and beaches – it might even reduce neighbourly conflict.
Read more: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Keith-Rossiter-DNA-test-stamp-dog-poop-pavements/story-25808459-detail/story.html#ixzz3XGm15sgW
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