DNA used to track down dog owners who don't scoop

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tiffany Acosta had a problem. The issue of dog droppings at the properties she manages had gotten so out of hand that neighbors were fighting with each other.

Nothing worked to resolve the issue. So late last year Acosta took an extreme measure. She made every dog in the 360-unit Hollywood Station complex submit to DNA testing — yes, DNA testing — and now when a complex employee finds a mess and tests it, the pet owner gets fined as much as $150.

And that has nearly solved the problem, she said.

"It's been very successful," Acosta said. "I think (the DNA testing) changed people's behavior.

"It's brought light to how bad it is. We had to go to this extent."

The DNA-tracking capability has motivated residents to pick up after their pets and has improved the messy situation by at least 85 percent, Acosta said. About 15 to 20 pet owners have been fined after the DNA collection, she said.

It doesn't take much to start the program. Dog DNA collection is a "very simple, easy, mess-free, pain-free" process, said Eric Mayer, business development director for BioPet Vet Lab.

Pet owners swab inside the mouth of their dogs and then mail it in a special container to the Tennessee-based laboratory for storage, said Acosta. The dog's identifying information is stored in a database.

"At that point, the community pet policy is now enforceable," Mayer said.

Acosta said it costs $35 to register pets and $50 to analyze the waste samples. Hollywood Station doesn't charge residents to register their pets — it's part of their nonrefundable $350 pet deposit — but subsequent fines are subtracted from their security deposit, Acosta said. They've upped their violation fee from $100 to $150 to compensate for the testing costs.

Whenever people don't scoop their dogs' waste, Hollywood Station employees head out to the scene, put on gloves and with a spatula collect a small portion — "the crust" — of the poop, Acosta said. The employee drops the sample into a solution-filled bottle, about 4 inches tall, seals it, shakes it and labels it with the time and place of the evidence. Some employees are thrilled to get a match.

"(Employee Clifton Allman) gets so excited when he gets another one," Acosta said. "He cares."

Hollywood Station resident Anthony Presciano also cares about the upkeep of the property, but he said he's been fined by the pooper troopers three times — for a total $400 — for his basset hound's accidents.

"The penalty is quite severe," Presciano said.

Presciano says he picks up properly after Luigi, but he was fined for incidents when Luigi went two times in one outing and Presciano didn't have a second bag to pick up after him.

The "paranoid" policing is one of the factors that's prompted Presciano not to renew his lease, he said.