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Mass. condo uses DNA testing to bag dog-doo culprits

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Nov. 21, 2013: Barbara Kansky, condo manager of Devon Wood in Braintree, Mass., uses a long cotton swab to demonstrate how to obtain a DNA cheek cell sample from her dog, Justine. (AP)

Apartment and condo managers, dogged by complaints from those who've have experienced the squishy and smelly sensation of stepping onto a pile of dog doo, are turning to DNA testing to identify the culprits who don't clean up after their pets.

It's the latest twist in the long-running struggle to keep canine waste off lawns, hallways, elevators and other common areas of animal-friendly community buildings.

DNA monitoring has yielded immediate and dramatic results in the Massachusetts condominium community of Devon Wood, where maintenance staff previously reported seeing, stepping into or driving over several piles of droppings each week on its 350-acre property.

"We initially didn't — for a better part of a month — didn't find any waste, which just floored us," said Barbara Kansky, who manages the 398-unit condo development in the town of Braintree that introduced DNA monitoring in July.

Polite reminders, letters and notices previously failed to convince errant pet owners to observe condo rules requiring them to clean up after their animals, Kansky said. There were problems even after residents reported seeing others failing to pick up their dog's messes.

"We would call or send a letter and that dog owner would say: 'Prove it,'" Kansky said.

So she searched online and found Knoxville, Tenn.-based BioPet Vet Lab, which specializes in testing DNA from dog poop to identify offending animals. BioPet has beefed up its staff with more scientists to meet demand for what Eric Mayer, director of business development, calls "a booming, growing, new product," and has started distributing throughout the U.S. and into Canada, Israel and Singapore in the past two years.

The service, branded PooPrints, is a very simple, Mayer said.

The first step is to register the DNA of all dogs in the community by collecting samples of their cheek cells using a pair of sterile swabs, Mayer said in an email. The second is to collect a sample of feces and send it to the lab for matching.

An attorney advised Kansky that condo trustees could enforce existing condo rules by requiring all dog owners to submit their animals for collection of DNA samples. Dog owners paid a one-time fee of $59.95 for the initial DNA testing for the database. Subsequent lab tests of dog droppings that end up identifying the offending animal result in a $50 testing fee plus a $100 fine.

So far, one resident dog has been identified as an offender.

Kerry Weidner, a pet owner in Devon Wood, says the service has transformed life at the sprawling complex.

"We used to see dog poop almost every other day. You had to worry about where you walk on the grass because there was dog poop, a lot of different places," Weidner said. "Now, you don't really have to worry about dog poop. You can walk where you want, the grass is now ours again, we don't have to worry about it, and that's just a great thing."

Now, Kansky said, residents want her to solve another problem.

"We've now had people say: 'Well, now can we get them to stop having their dogs lift their legs on the shrubs?'" Kansky said, smiling. "That's a little more difficult and we are not going to tackle that."

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