Return Doo Sender

The Spanish town of Brunete is a community just outside the country’s capital city of Madrid, and home to about 10,000 people — and to their pets. And with pets, and in particular, with dogs, comes poop. Dog owners would take their companions out for walks on Brunete’s picturesque streets and the dogs would do their business here, there, and everywhere. The dog owners should have picked up after their pets, of course, but such things don’t always happen. Dogs pooped on the sidewalk, pooped in the public parks, pooped on the playground where children played, and owners, too often, failed to pick up after them. Left-behind dog poop became a political problem for Brunete mayor Borja Gutiérrez; as the New York Times reported in 2013, “after nearly two years in office, he said, he had visited with some 220 citizens in their homes, and the subject of dog owners was the one constant complaint.”

Brunete already had the typical laws in place prohibiting not cleaning up after your dog, but these penalties — fines — weren’t proving effective. So they took a crack at some more creative approaches. Working with an ad agency (it took the matter on for free), the Brunete city council came up with a neat campaign: a “chasing offending pet owners with remote-controlled poop-on-wheels, each pile emblazoned with the message ‘Don’t leave me, pick me up!’ written on it,” according to PRI, and seen below. (That’s a screenshot from this video; sorry that it’s so grainy.)

Brilliant, right?

It didn’t work.

As funny as it is to have a fake poop chase non-scoopers down the street, the reminder to pick up after one’s dog didn’t seem to resonate, at least not for long. So they changed tactics. Instead of asking people nicely, the town decided to ask volunteers to pick up after the dogs — and then return the poop to the dog owners as part of the town’s lost-and-found program. 

The project required a bit of investigation, as it’s not like dog poop comes with identifying marks that let us associate the dung with the dog. The Times, in the above-linked article, explained the process:

The sting operation worked like this: Volunteers were instructed to watch for negligent dog owners and then to approach their dogs to pet them. After a few flattering remarks about the beauty of said dog, they asked what breed it was. Then they asked the dog’s name.

Back at City Hall, where more than 500 residents have their pets registered, that was enough information to get to an address.

The volunteers also had to pick up the doodies, of course, but that was a small price to pay for a cleaner community (I guess). The workers placed the poops inside a resealable plastic which, in turn, were placed in boxes stamped with the official town seal, as seen below.

Then, a town official or volunteer took the box, droppings and all, to the dog owner’s home. The volunteer told the dog owner was told that something of theirs was turned in as lost, and they could have it back — all they had to do was sign for the parcel. Not knowing what was inside, no one could resist. And what the dog owners found inside was the poop, yes, and also a warning: future leave-behinds could run them fines of up to hundreds of dollars.

In total, nearly 150 boxes of lost feces were returned. This campaign, while gross, seemed to do the trick. Months after the campaign ended, Gutiérrez claimed a 70% reduction in errant doggy doo.

Bonus fact: Shaming people for not picking up after their pets is effective, yes, but it has also gone too far in some cases. Perhaps the most notable is now simply known as the “dog poop girl” incident. In 2005, a student, commuting on a train in Seoul, didn’t clean up after her dog when it defecated in the train car. While other passengers implored her to remove the droppings, she declined repeated — so at least one of the passengers turned into an online vigilante, snapping her picture. The picture circulated widely and the online mobs took over; as the Columbia Journalism Review noted, “blogs and online discussion groups buzzed with dirt about Dog Poop Girl’s parents and relatives, and cries for more invasions of her privacy.” Ultimately, the now-named student did publicly apologize, but it wasn’t enough; fearing for her safety, she dropped out of college.

From the Archives: The Municipal Pooper Scooper Lottery: Another way to combat dog poop, minus the shaming part.