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.