Battle against dog excrement with DNA tests and special agents

by Lorraine Williamson
dog excrement

It’s a thorn in the side for many: dog excrement on the streets. In Spanish cities and towns, not everyone seems to take the cleanup duty seriously. Therefore, the government is deploying new measures to tackle dog owners and can impose fines of up to €3,000.

It’s not uncommon in Malaga to see a local agent standing next to a dog excrement while someone else takes a sample with a cotton swab. The collected fecal samples are sent to the laboratory for DNA analysis. The government aims to identify offenders and impose penalties.

Approaches to the dog excrement problem vary by municipality

Malaga has been using the DNA system to combat excessive dog excrement on the streets since 2017. However, it’s not the only method to identify negligent dog owners. The municipality of Torrelodones (Madrid) has announced the appointment of an environmental agent. This official, among other duties, will ensure that dog owners comply with their obligations. In the Madrid town of Brunete, dog excrement was even returned to residents years ago. A municipal worker would kindly deliver a package containing the “gift” to the doorstep. The battle against dog excrement in city streets and parks is becoming increasingly sophisticated, with fines of up to €3,000.

Awareness campaigns help, but not for everyone

In Spain, there are an estimated more than 9 million dogs. Awareness campaigns have some effect on the behaviour of dog owners. However, there is still no solution to the rude behaviour of residents who do not clean up the excrement or wash away their pet’s urine from buildings, lamp posts, and other street furniture. Apparently, not all dog owners feel the moral obligation to keep public spaces clean for other residents. Dog excrement is even found in playgrounds, sandpits, and in front of people’s homes.

Alcalá Henares opts for mandatory DNA registration of dogs

In Alcalá de Henares, mandatory DNA identification is required. However, for the system to work, it’s essential that all dogs are identified with their DNA in a municipal register. Owners must take their pets to the veterinarian, where a saliva sample is taken for genetic analysis. The process costs €36, and the Alcalá municipality has contributed €30 per resident.

Cogesa Expats

For the municipality of Alcalá de Henares, DNA registration has proven to be an effective tool in the battle against dog excrement on the streets. Once an animal is registered in the DNA database, the dog receives a collar with a QR code that it must wear. So far, about 9,000 owners have registered their dogs, 60% the total. Currently, around 90 municipalities in Spain use the DNA recognition method.

Many stray dogs are not registered

The system also aims to improve animal welfare. Double-checking helps reduce the large number of stray dogs. In Spain, it’s mandatory to identify your dog, although the system used is not the same everywhere. The most common method is a microchip – with the contact details of the responsible person – but not all dogs are chipped. Only 34% of dogs in shelters have an implanted chip, according to a study by the Affinity Foundation.

Torrelodones aims to solve the dog excrement problem with an environmental agent

Other municipalities prefer different options. The municipal council of Torrelodones appoints an environmental agent. Although the city centre is now clean, the dog excrement problem persists in the neighbourhoods. Therefore, the municipality has also launched a campaign. Residents receive information by letter explaining that fines can reach up to €3,000.

The municipality of Denia (Alicante) hopes to raise awareness among its citizens about the problem by making the replacement costs of street furniture visible: a bench costs €444; a lamp post €441; a trash can €185; and a pole €72. Zaragoza focuses on addressing rude behaviour and launched a campaign in 2023 with the motto “We love your dog, not their poop. Pick it up!” The city collects more than 13,000 kilograms of dog excrement annually, resulting in nearly €500,000 in annual cleaning costs.

The excuse that dog excrement is good fertiliser is a false myth

In large cities like Madrid, with more than 280,000 registered dogs, or Barcelona, there is only an obligation to pick up dog excrement. In addition, residents are advised to dilute urine “with a small bottle of water with a few drops of vinegar.” The excuse that dog excrement is good fertiliser is a false myth: “it can even be toxic to plants,” warns the Madrid municipality.

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