The Law and Economics of Dog Poop Externalities

Dog owners who let their furry friends poop in public places and then don’t clean up the mess are a classic example of what economists call “externalities.” They inflict harm on other people that they don’t have to pay for, and therefore have little or no incentive to prevent or mitigate the damage. The classic solution to the problem is a system of fines. But unless the authorities catch the offending canine in the act, it’s almost impossible to determine whose pooch is responsible for the poop.

Fortunately, enterprising law and economics scholars at a Florida condo have developed an innovative solution to this seemingly intractable externality problem [HT: Propertyprof Blog]:

Need proof that the rich really aren’t that different from you and me? How’s this — they don’t pick up their dog’s poop when they think no one is looking, either. No, not even when they’re only walking their dog on the turf at their luxury condo. That’s why a condo community in Florida is making residents enter their dog’s DNA into a new genetic database that will be used to match a poop to a pooch and identify which owners aren’t cleaning up after their pets….

Orlando’s Vue condos are pretty swanky places to live, with just one problem — some thoughtless resident apparently believes that living in the lap of luxury makes them too good to clean up their dog’s leavings, deposited on a patch of turf provided by the condo for just this purpose. Fellow residents tried installing cameras to catch the pooping perp, but to no avail. So instead of hiring a team of ninjas to keep watch over what is essentially the world’s smallest, grossest indoor park, the condo association leapt directly to the next most crazy option available to them — mandatory genetic tagging of all canine residents.

As of next month, all dog owners in the condo complex will be required to submit a sample of their pup’s DNA from an oral swab to the condo association. The samples will be used by Tennessee-based company PooPrints to create a DNA database of all dogs in the condo so that future unscooped poops can be identified and those responsible shamed in the traditional fashion.

While I have to admire the condo residents’ cleverness, I worry what might happen if New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg finds out about this. The city that bars dogs from bars could decide to impose mandatory genetic testing for Gotham’s entire canine population and then order the NYPD to collect and test all dog poop found in the city so that the offenders can be tracked down and punished.