The Pooper Snooper
An apartment complex turns to DNA testing to force dog owners to pick up after their furry friends.
As he walks down a hallway of the Ilume Cedar Springs apartments, manager Joshuah Welch points out a spot on the carpet. It looks like a squashed Hershey’s Kiss. He thinks it’s the result of a dog with diarrhea. “That’s considered not picked up,” he says.
He stops in front of apartment No. 1337 and knocks on the door. At length, a young man in wrinkled khaki shorts and a blue polo opens the door. He is bending over, holding the collar of a rambunctious terrier.
“We have a little problem,” Welch says. “Tracking No. 887 had some poop found in the dog run.”
“Which one?” the resident asks as the other of his two terriers attempts to make a run for it.
“Eight-eight-seven,” Welch tells him. “Whichever one of these is 887.” Both Welch and the resident give little nervous snorts. “So it was found in the dog run. Do you remember having them last week out there?”
“I was actually out of town last week. I had a dog walker watching them.”
The excuse is exactly what Welch expected to hear. It’s been used a time or two before.
“I know this sucks,” Welch says, “but you’re responsible for your dog. The $250 is a one-time fee. You can pay that on next month’s rent, or one of your dogs will have to be removed.”
At this, the jaw of the young man in apartment No. 1337 quivers a little.
After a few more details, Welch turns to walk away. “I’d probably fire your dog walker,” he says over his shoulder.
This is the sixth bust 30-year-old Welch has made in the 60 days since the PooPrints program, at his suggestion, was implemented at the apartment complex in June. Sitting in his office, where he interviews all dogs before their owners sign leases, he succinctly describes how PooPrints works. When a resident with a pet signs a lease, the dog’s cheek is swabbed. This sample is sent to the BioPet Vet Lab in Tennessee, which extracts the dog’s DNA and keeps it on file. When a waste sample is found, Welch puts it in a container with enzymes, shakes until it’s the consistency of a “milkshake slurry,” and sends it to the lab. Within five days, the DNA is analyzed, and, with 99.9 percent certainty, the culprit is identified. The initial setup fee is $29.95. Ilume ate those costs for its current residents. The $250 fee that’s charged to residents who are busted goes toward recouping that initial cost and to the $50 lab analysis.
“It’s not made to make money,” Welch says. “It’s really more of a punishment.”
Pat Norton has lived at the Ilume for more than two years with his 4-year-old Boxer, Roxy. Before PooPrints, he says, he heard neighbors make snide remarks about each other. “There were comments going on, like, ‘God, I can’t believe she lets her damn dog crap in the hall,’ ” he says in his heavy Texas accent. He was one of the first people to embrace the program and get his dog swabbed. Not every resident, though, has shared his enthusiasm. “I’ve heard a couple people go, ‘Well, I’ll be dammed if I pay any kind of fine.’ My whole deal is, well, don’t let your dog crap and not clean it up, and we won’t have a problem. I stopped using the actual pet run because of how nasty it was. Everywhere you went, there was a little surprise. But now that’s not the case.”
Ilume is the first apartment complex in North Texas to use the program, but Cedric Moses, managing partner of DFW Concierge Services and the owner of PooPrints-Texas, says he hopes it catches on. He lives downtown and recently launched a campaign to bring the program to his neighborhood. PooPrints was initially used to test the purity of breed lines for international dog shows. The parent company just recently discovered that DNA tracking could be used to cut down on pet waste. Moses’ goals for the 3-year-old PooPrints are lofty. “We are looking to implement this as part of the pet registration process for all dogs,” he says. “We have the capacity, technology, and experience to do this worldwide.”
Though most Ilume residents are now happy with the PooPrints program, Welch did have a rough time implementing it. “The first 30 days sucked because we were going door to door. People were hiding dogs,” he says.
He still remembers his first bust, a satisfying one because the offender was one of the worst in the building. “The owner completely freaked out and felt like I was specifically targeting him,” he says. When the owner refused to pay the fine, Welch gave him 24 hours and threatened to have the animal removed and taken to the Humane Society (which, of course, he couldn’t legally do). “The owner did, in fact, pay the fine, and we have yet to find another piece of poo coming from his dog.”
Playing the role of enforcer is sometimes difficult for Welch because he, too, lives in the apartment complex. After his most recent bust, he spends a minute calming his shaking hands and analyzing the reaction of the resident with the two terriers. “I have a love-hate relationship with the residents, because I am their friend at the bar,” he says, “but when it’s time to pay rent or pick up after their pets, I become an enforcer.”