Walking down city streets used to be an obstacle course. Instead of admiring the architecture or shop windows, you had to watch where you were walking or you would take home a little gift on the bottom of your shoe. Urban laws have greatly improved the situation, but not all dog owners are dutiful about cleaning up during the morning walk. Cities have tried everything from using the postal service (a Spanish mayor mailed the stuff back to dog owners) to shaming (some cities have publicized the names of offending owners) to bribery (some parks in Mexico City offered free WiFi in exchange for bags of waste).
Italian cities seem to be especially aggressive in the clean-up campaign and are using technology to help. It started about 5 years ago in Naples, a city that ironically struggles to collect the garbage. (Actually, the city drew on the success of the nearby resort island of Capri.) The testing ground was Vomero, an affluent neighborhood, where every dog was required to have a blood test for DNA profiling in order to create a database of dogs and owners. Then when an offending pile was discovered, it was tested. If a match was found, the owner faced a fine of up to 500 euros (about $685). Early results indicated that the cleanup campaign was working.
Then in 2016 the city of Malnate (province of Varese, region of Lombardy) got in the act for the following year. The city is known for its environmental sensitivity. It started with a microchip in the trash; in one year, citizens who differentiated the trash increased from 55 to 77%. The city of 16,000 inhabitants won an award for being among the 7 most virtuous municipalities in Italy. Now dog owners are being challenged and their four-legged friends have to make a saliva contribution for potential DNA analysis. These initiatives are not without critics. The Anti-Vivisection League attacked the new experiment: “It is simply a ridiculous idea. The technical and financial commitment that would be necessary is absolutely disproportionate to the supposed gravity of the problem.” But the city pursued meetings with citizens and groups. They noted that the Vomero experiment led to the reduction of 70% of canine debris in the street, and that similar projects have started in Livorno and Trieste. And the costs? The campaign to collect the DNA will be paid by the company that takes care of garbage collection. Dog owners will be required to take Fido to a veterinary clinic for a saliva contribution (free to the dog owner) that will be paid for by the company that performs environmental hygiene in the city. That company, in turn, will see savings in work hours from the reduction of droppings in the street. Moreover, owners will have useful information to define the pedigree or breed of origin, and to trace and prevent the onset of disease.
Then in 2017 in Savona (Liguria region), a new controversial initiative was proposed which requires dog owners, under penalty of a fine up to 500 euros, to clean up both solid and liquid waste in pedestrian areas, and on facades of buildings, columns of porticoes, poles, flowerbeds, benches, waste bins, etc. The controversy is pitting tradespeople against animal rights advocates. On the one hand, the shopkeepers maintain that for them it is a burdensome expense to do what the people should do by themselves. Animal welfare organizations say that “preventing animals from taking care of their needs borders on maltreatment.”
And in 2018 the cities of Chivasso and Carmagnola (province of Turin in the Piedmont region) have passed laws regarding this issue. In Chivasso, for those who have a dog, a scoop and a bag are not enough. They must also carry a bottle of water to rinse away the pee-pee. Penalties range from 25 to 150 euros. Carmagnola instead provides DNA examination of all dogs in the municipality. The Director of the Zoo Prophylactic Institute explains, “Our scientific contribution is to put genetic analysis of the service of the fight against animal diseases, in particular those that can be transmitted to humans, such as parasites, which are significantly increasing.” The collection of dogs’ DNA from saliva will be free to owners for a year. The Council for Hygiene concludes by saying, “The problem of lack of collection of dog waste is felt by all citizens, especially in playgrounds for children and in the streets of the historic center. We decided to intervene with an extraordinary, innovative and effective solution, creating a method that can easily be adopted by every Italian municipality.”