It was quiet in Belgrave Square on a recent Tuesday morning.
One dog wandered off-leash around this petite park in the heart of Rathmines, his owner at a distance, in defiance of a nearby sign. A rule breaker? I ask the man if he cleans up after his dog. “Sometimes,” he says.
This area, if you believe some local councillors, might be considered the ground zero of Dublin’s dog poo problem.
Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello says he gets complaints all the time about rampant pet poo in his Rathmines-Rathgar constituency.
“It’s a bad problem in Dublin South-East. Even when I was canvassing for a yes vote, the people I met started talking about dog waste,” he said last week.
While on this Tuesday there’s no visible dog poo lurking in the leaves, some park-goers agree that it’s a big issue there.
“It comes in phases. There’ll be so much of it sometimes you can smell it. It’s a real problem when the kids play football,” said one mother, at the playground.
There are more than 30,000 dogs in Dublin and, each week, they make an estimated 10,200 kilograms of poo. For comparison, that’s weightier than the largest recorded killer whale.
In 2013, a poll by market researchers Millward Brown found that 65 percent of respondents felt dog litter was a problem. Most people thought it was more of an issue than cigarettes, gum or graffiti.
Half thought the problem was getting worse, and ten percent of dog owners said they rarely, or never, picked up their own dog’s droppings.
Now, Costello has come up with a three-pronged plan to deal with the poo: bins, fines and – tentatively – doggy DNA.
“First of all, we need to make it easier to pick up dog poo by making more bins and bags available,” he said, pitching for a reversal of falling bin numbers.
Next, he wants more education and heftier fines. An “extra 0” should be added to the current rate of €150, he says, citing the €1,000 fine for using a phone while driving as an example of a successful deterrent.
“The risk of getting caught is so low, because enforcement is remaining low, so fines should be higher,” he said.
Last year, there were just two people fined for not picking up their dog’s poos; one was paid and the other fine letter was sent back, stamped with “No such address”.
“This shows the attitudes of people and how easy it is to get away with,” said Costello.
The final plank of Costello’s campaign is DNA testing the poo.
Dublin wouldn’t be the first city to turn to DNA testing. Last month, Dagenham and – aptly – Barking in East London launched DNA testing for dog poo. Forty-five US states, Naples, Israel, Singapore and Canada are also using this approach.
“The initial set up costs could be expensive, but after that it can be cost neutral by including the cost of the test in the fine,” Costello said.
The company Streetkleen, which is behind the DNA testing technology PooPrints, say that after set-up costs, it’s between €20 and €40 to register a dog’s DNA, and €80 to €100 to test the poo.
But at the moment, Dublin City Council doesn’t want to focus on fines; officials there prefer using signs. Dog owners can lie about who they are, threaten wardens and, if a fine is challenged in court, it can be difficult to prove who owns a dog.
All this makes it hard to issue and collect fines and raising awareness is more effective, argues Paul Finan, a spokesperson from the council. Consider, for example, the #YourDogYourPoop campaign of last year.
But Sinn Féin Councillor for Ballymun, Noeleen Reilly, says that signs can just be ignored; she thinks the council needs to make sure there are more staff to impose the law.
At a recent residents association meeting in Rathgar, locals and other councillors laughed at Patrick Costello when he suggested the idea of DNA testing dog poo.
Although, he concedes it is not a good idea to leap into this system straight away. For the moment, he is happy to do some research into whether it’s a good idea or not.
At the last council meeting for his local area, Costello requested that Dublin City Council reach out to international councils and put together a report to see if DNA testing dog faeces is a fad or a fix.
“Let councils in Naples and Borough do the heavy lifting,” he said, “and if it works, we can steal their idea.”