Israel’s great DNA pooper-scooper caper

It’s a problem everywhere where man’s best friend lives in the urban environment: dog poop and picking it up. A new community project in Petah Tikva, Israel is now taking to the streets using canine DNA to determine which pooch …

It’s a problem everywhere where man’s best friend lives in the urban environment: dog poop and picking it up. A new community project in Petah Tikva, Israel is now taking to the streets using canine DNA to determine which pooch is pooping and what owner is not scooping.

In charge of collecting the DNA and educating the public about the importance of picking up pet excrement is veterinarian Dr. Tika Bar-On who works for veterinary services in the Tel Aviv suburb city. Several years ago the city’s mayor Itzhak Ohayon came to her, asking about ways they could work together to solve the escalating pet poop problem around the city.

A nuisance and a health hazard, they talked about tracking pets according to their DNA, and Bar-On immediately looked into research online. She noticed that other vets around the world had thought about the possibility, but that such a project had never been realized. Now with the city’s support, Israeli dogs in one Petah Tikva neighborhood will be the first to have their DNA tagged, doggy-style.

A bank of canine DNA

Giving incentives to pet owners to send in a DNA swab, Bar-On is hoping to collect a bank of all dogs in the neighborhood. Once on file, a team — in collaboration with the microbiology and chemistry lab Bactochem and Dr. Aviv Cahana — will regularly inspect special poop waste bins placed around the streets.

Owners who are found to be picking up and disposing of their pet’s excrement in the bins will win coupons and pet prizes. This way, the city can also track and trace the dog waste that is not collected, helping better control the violators who are not living up to their civic responsibility.

“We don’t have a law that can obligate the pet owners to send in the DNA, but we are hoping that they will,” says Bar-On, who has organized a small conference about the project with the local pet owners. About 100 showed up.

Twelve-year-olds in a nearby school are also hitting the streets with the message, to get more samples for the DNA database, and essentially to educate residents about the importance of removing pet poop from the street.

Trace lost pets, cure new diseases

It’s a big problem in Israeli cities, where most residents live in apartments, and children and people spend much of their leisure time outdoors. Worms, bacteria and environmental pollution in general, are some of the problems associated with uncollected dog faeces, Bar-On tells ISRAEL21c.

She notes that the large bank of DNA will be made available to scientific researchers as well for further study – possibly on pet diseases, and can also be used to reunite lost pets with their owners. In the future, it may also be used to help curious pet owners find the parents of their new puppy, rescued from animal shelters.

“Once we have the DNA bank, the sky’s the limit,” says Bar-On. And as far as she knows, this is the first project like it in the world. She’d like to emphasize that the project is not meant to scare or threaten people who are violating the poop and scoop law — in effect for four years now in Israel — and which carries a fine of about $150, but to teach people about improving their city, and making it a better place for all.

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.