Fed up with dog-doo, Burlington apartments resort to DNA tracing

Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 6:38 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s the time of year when the snow melts, revealing dog-doo messes in parks and sidewalks across Vermont. Now, some Burlington property owners are turning to technology that they hope will manage the poop problems.

“I definitely understand the concern and the need, because it’s a sanitary problem,” said RikkiAnn Boshears, who moved into the Cambrian Rise complex on Burlington’s waterfront a little more than a year ago. She says the amenities and location are perks, but the advertised pet-friendly apartments were the biggest selling point. A place she could settle in with her dog. “Mitsuko, she is 13 years old.”

Boshears first learned about the dog-waste DNA testing technology that helps landlords hound poo-pertrators while she was living in Seattle. “It was something I had seen on the news there and thought it was kind of crazy, and now six years later, I’m seeing it here,” Boshears said.

Farrell Properties, a developer which runs Cambrian Rise and three other apartment communities in Burlington and South Burlington, recently announced in a letter to tenants that irresponsible pet parents were making such a stink on the premises, the owners will be implementing a policy that requires all dogs get DNA tested through a sampling process called “PooPrints.” The results are recorded in a worldwide registry.

Starting April 1, any unscooped poop on the grounds will be collected and sent to the Tennessee-based tech company BioPet Laboratories Inc. for analysis. Residents who violate the rules will be in the dog house -- fined $300 for every occurrence. And if they fail to comply, they won’t be granted a lease renewal.

The idea -- a one-time cheek swab will reduce stress on staff, keep shared spaces clean, and protect the environment. Farrell Properties originally planned to charge each tenant a $44 registration fee but has since waived the payment. However, if a tenant is unable to attain the cheek swab from a finicky pup, the tenant is expected to pay for a $82 blood test.

Farrell officials declined to comment about why they’ve gone this route, but it’s a protocol that’s gaining popularity. The president of the Vermont Landlords Association Angela Zaikowski says any time a property owner complains about dog poop problems, she recommends they try the PooPrints program. It’s just one more management tool in their arsenal. The other solution is banning dogs, but she says the demand for pet-friendly housing is so high that property owners would prefer to make this compromise.

“I’m wondering if there are other community-minded solutions that landlords could implement to try and address the problem before going to something a little bit more invasive, or maybe some would even call extreme,” said Ryan Murphy, the statewide housing navigator with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. She says while she appreciates that dog poop is a hazard, some tenants may be skeptical of the science. Murphy also notes service dog owners can’t legally be charged any pet fees. “My question then was: are people who have assistance animals just not going to be required to participate in the program, and does that really make sense as a surveillance mechanism?” Murphy stresses any residents with concerns about their legal rights are encouraged to call the Vermont tenants hotline at (802) 864-0099.

Residents like Boshears still have many unanswered questions, including -- what-if landlords are barking up the wrong tree? “If you have a visiting dog that poops on the premises, they will then test that, but how are they able to test that?” she said. Zaikowski says some property owners using PooPrints detect dog-doo that doesn’t match any of the tenants’ pets. So the culprit could be a neighbor or passerby.

The CEO of BioPet Labs J Retinger tells Channel 3 News the testing is International Standard for Organization accredited, and there are already nearly 30 sites in Vermont using the program, half of which signed on since 2021. About 500 communities in the Northeast, from New Jersey to Maine, also participate. The company claims the policy alone serves as a deterrent and has proven to reduce pet waste by 95%. Retinger says the technology has also been used to reunite lost canines with their human companions.

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