CSI Vienna: Politician Promotes DNA Tracking of Dog Droppings

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Vienna, Austria, is graced by imperial buildings, wide boulevards and many parks. But a local politician says the city's charm is diminished by dog owners who don't clean up after their pets. He has a solution: track dogs — and their droppings — using DNA.


Vienna, Austria, is graced by imperial buildings, wide boulevards and miniparks. But a local politician says the city's charm is diminished by dog owners who don't clean up after their pets. His solution? Track dogs and their droppings using DNA. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS reporting:

University student Christian Reiner(ph) is sprawled on the grass just outside the former Hapsburg Royal Palace in the heart of Vienna. He feels lucky he found a clean spot.

Mr. CHRISTIAN REINER (University Student): If I sit down, I usually check like the spot where I'm sitting, like, ooh, is there something? We don't have like any penalties or any fees if like the dog puts a--like his poo or--somewhere.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

HARRIS: Dogs and people mix on this public lawn, which is fine with Manfred Urasca(ph), a local leader of the Austrian People's Party. But he doesn't want the pooches to leave anything behind. He says the problem could be solved starting right when owners register their dogs.

Mr. MANFRED URASCA (Austrian People's Party): (Through Translator) We could take a DNA sample at the time and create a database. Then if dog owners let their dogs poop on sidewalks, playgrounds or bus stops, we'll just match the samples and find the owner.

HARRIS: He thinks this would solve the problem for once and for all, plus he claims finding poop with no match in the database could help police figure out where to enforce registration laws. Urasca admits his district faces much more serious problems, such as drug-dealing and retaining small businesses. But he cites former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's fix-the-broken-windows theory as part of his inspiration.

Mr. URASCA: (Through Translator) As soon as the neighborhood isn't clean it's less attractive for people living there and the people doing business there. Shops close down, people move away, crime goes up.

HARRIS: And dog droppings are a part of that, he says. But Viennese dog owners aren't so supportive.

Ms. LISA BADER(ph) (Dog Owner): I collect my dogs' poop.

HARRIS: Lisa Bader is sunbathing while her dogs, Laura(ph) and Jonas(ph), romp nearby.

Ms. BADER: I think it costs too much money and it's impossible to do because it's not even possible to know the DNA of each person, so how can you collect the DNA of each dog's--it's impossible.

HARRIS: Kurt Porschdendoerfer(ph), a zoologist, walks his German shepherd, Cindy(ph), nearby. He says his dog registration fee of about $50 a year should cover city clean-up costs.

Mr. KURT PORSCHDENDOERFER (Dog Owner): (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: `If the dog tax were a little bit cheaper, then every normal person would clean up their dog's droppings,' he says. `Anyway, pressure won't work. It has to be a rational solution.'

But others seem to think the idea is OK. Gary Francis(ph) came from Britain to study at Vienna University.

Mr. GARY FRANCIS (Dog Owner): It's correct. Why not? Modern technology. It seems like a good idea to me. It would make ...(technical difficulty) instead of having to look down at the floor all the time. Even on the street. It's not just not necessarily the park. It's on the streets as well. It's nasty.

HARRIS: Right now, Vienna is in the middle of an information campaign trying to get dog owners to pick up their pet's poop. Teams of city workers wander the parks handing out cards that say `Thank you' to people who do clean up after their dogs and cards that say `Stop' to those who don't.

(Soundbite of hoofbeats)

HARRIS: And two years ago, Vienna solved the problem of horses, used to cart tourists around in carriages, dirtying the streets. Each horse is now required to wear a sort of a chute that catches the poop and that carriage drivers later empty. It's worked very well, but nobody's talking about attaching those to dogs.

Emily Harris, NPR News.

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