Summit County has a reputation for being one of the pet-friendliest places in high country. Soon, though, in addition to pet licenses, some Breck dog owners will be required to submit samples of their pooches’ DNA to help the town enforce its pet-waste ordinance.
This past winter, the Town of Breckenridge began researching a novel tactic to hold irresponsible dog owners accountable when it comes to addressing the minefields of poop outside town-owned apartment buildings: DNA testing. The town, which owns or manages roughly 200 subsidized rental units that house approximately 400 locals (and more than 150 dogs), has received complaints for years about pet waste, especially in late spring once the snow melts and reveals a winter’s worth of lassitude. To those who’ve ever stepped in it, the potential remedy could be as satisfying as the reveal in an episode of CSI.
First, every dog that lives on-site would have its mouth swabbed to establish a bank of canine DNA profiles. Then, if a property manager finds a steaming pile on premises, a third-party vendor would be summoned to collect a sample, then test it against the DNA bank. If a match is established, fines would follow, with escalating amounts for multiple infractions. Refusal to comply over time could result in eviction, says Laurie Best, a senior planner for the town, who is overseeing the initiative.
“Basically, everybody we’ve talked to has said that this tactic is an excellent deterrent,” Best says. “We have reached out to a couple vendors to give us final pricing, and in terms of lightly stepping into this”—pun intended—“I think we would look at implementing it at one of our apartment complexes to see how it works before we go with a broader implementation.”
Aside from the yuck factor, dog waste has ecological ramifications. Last year, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics studied an open space near Boulder that’s visited by 5.3 million visitors each year and found that dog owners left behind a staggering 30 tons of dog poop; in addition to carrying pathogens, that waste can trigger toxic algae blooms once washed into local streams and ponds.
Even if the pilot program proves to be a success, Breckenridge Open Space and Trails Specialist Tony Overlock says it would be unrealistic to implement a similar program on local trails, where plastic bags and multiple waste receptacles make it easy—theoretically—for dog owners to do the right thing. “I was interested at first, because statistics show that just swabbing the dogs—not even testing the poop—dropped the percentage of noncompliance immensely,” Overlock says. “But with all our visitors, it would be impossible to do this on trails.”
Best says the town was considering testing the procedure this summer at its Huron Landing property, which opened last July and requires tenants to pay $25 per dog per month in “pet rent” (out of 26 units, 12 have dogs living there). The fees for DNA testing—about $50 for the initial swab and $95 for any sample tests—will be drawn from those funds.
The practice is hardly ideal, but as Best says: “It’s what you have to do to change people’s behaviors.”
Especially when the behavior you don’t want creates a lot of doo.