VIRGINIA BEACH — In an effort to get tenants to clean up after their dogs, apartment complexes in Norfolk and Virginia Beach have enlisted the help of DNA testing services to identify pesky poopers and their careless owners.
With around 180 units in the apartment community, The Watermark at Talbot Park off Newport Avenue in Norfolk, implemented the services of Mr. Dog Poop in fall 2016, not long after the property opened.
“We knew that it would be the best option and the best way to go about keeping this brand new asset as clean as possible,” said leasing specialist Jennifer Smith.
Smith said the number of pets the complex could house called for a program to hold owners accountable for their four-legged friends.
Residents are required to swab their dog’s cheek and provide the sample to the leasing office within the first few days of moving in.
“Usually when they move in is when we go ahead and set up that appointment,” Smith said. “Most people go ahead and get it done the same day they move in. Some people bring them in a couple days later which is fine as long as we get it done that first week.”
Once gathered, the apartment complex mails the samples to Mr. Dog Poop’s lab in Tampa, Fla.
According to Mr. Dog Poop owner and founder, Mark Guarino, his company logs samples in a Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, database, much like the ones used by federal law enforcement.
“Essentially we’re doing the same thing as the FBI,” Guarino said. “With the CODIS database they [use for] criminal offenders. We are using the same process with dogs.”
With the database, Guarino’s company can take undisturbed poop on the property and run a forensics test to determine who owns the dog, using the skin cells on the outer surface.
While community managers may try to utilize other methods to influence careless residents, the accuracy of DNA testing has proven to be an effective deterrent.
Carolyn Barner, property manager at the Solace apartments in Virginia Beach, said that after receiving a handful of weekly complaints from frustrated tenants she knew it was time for a change.
“It was worse when some stepped in it, not realizing it, and tracking it into the hallways, which then other people stepped on,” she said.
The property began using BioPet Laboratories to help reel in pet owners.
After the program was implemented in 2015, Barner said the property went relatively incident-free, especially after notifying residents of the consequences.
At Solace, it’s a three strike system for owners.
First-time offenses result in a $150 fee added to a person’s rent while the second will cost $200. On the third offense, the resident is asked to move out.
“People were just kind of scared because we laid out how it was going to hit their pocketbook and what the ramifications would be the third time,” Barner said.
The Watermark uses a similar consequence system.
According to Guarino, pet owners are more likely to clean up after their dogs if they know they will get fined as a consequence.
“They have to think about it,” he said. “It works.”
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