Municipalities in New Jersey are required by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to adopt and enforce local pet-waste laws. At a minimum, each community must require that “pet owners or their keepers immediately and properly dispose of their pet’s solid waste deposited on any public or private property not owned or possessed by that person.”
Riverdale has established ordinances mandating that dog owners “remove all feces deposited by a dog on any common thoroughfare, sidewalk, passageway, bypath, play area, park or any place where people congregate or walk or upon any public property whatsoever or upon any private property without the permission of the owner of said property.”
A Condo community in Riverdale, “The Grande at Riverdale,” has reportedly taken steps to enforce these laws on Condo property. Specifically, the Grande is requiring that all dog owners have their dogs swabbed for their genetic fingerprints, which will be used to identify the depositor of any un-scooped feces left on condo property, and the owners of the offending canines will be fined. While every dog owner should responsibly clean up after their dog, the following issues may impede the Condo’s ability to effectively implement this plan.
- Owners are required to have their dogs swabbed for genetic testing, but this process may result in injury to the person attempting to obtain the sample from the dog, but it is unclear who will be taking the samples. If performed by a licensed veterinarian, that licensee could be held accountable by the NJ State Board of Veterinary Medicine and/or the licensee’s conduct may be covered by the veterinarian’s malpractice insurance. If performed by someone else, including the owner, it is unclear who may be considered liable. Furthermore, it is not a recommended practice to permit an animal owner to perform a test on their own animals, if the results of that test may be used as a basis for future punitive action against that owner.
- Any genetic test used for punitive purposes should be validated by a third-party, performed by technicians certified to perform that test, in a laboratory that employs quality assurance to insure the accuracy of each test result. Further, procedures should be in place to ensure the custody and control of each sample, from specimen collection to test completion. If these procedures are not employed, or not properly recorded, the results could be challenged.
- Protocols for the accurate identification and security of specimens from the point of collection through laboratory testing will minimize the contamination of samples, once collected, and should also include the ability to confirm test results with repetitive testing.
- The specificity and sensitivity of genetic testing on dogs for genetic fingerprinting, particularly for samples taken from feces left in the environment for unspecified periods of time, may not provide sufficiently certain results to withstand challenges from accused owners. Dog feces are inherently contaminated with organisms such as bacteria, and possibly parasites, which have their own genetic fingerprints. Additionally, once deposited on the ground, environmental contaminants from other material may intermingle with the sample to be tested, rendering the results more questionable. Prompt testing of these samples, which may be difficult to arrange, will minimize these potential weaknesses in this program.
- Biological materials sent by mail or other services, must be packaged, labeled, and handled appropriately, to preserve the specimen for testing. Delay in receipt of laboratories samples, or contamination during transit, may render the results inconclusive.
These issues are of greater concern when the dog owners face increasing fines for alleged violations, making it more likely that they will challenge the laboratory results. While every dog owner should clean up after their dog(s), it may be more efficient and more bullet-proof, to employ other tools, like surveillance cameras, to identify offenders.