The Municipal Pooper Scooper Lottery

New Taipei City — not to be confused with Taipei — is the most populous city in Taiwan, with nearly 4 million people living in 800 square miles (about 2,000 km^2). That’s a lot of people in a rather small space — and those numbers don’t include all the dogs.

There might not be any more dogs in New Taipei City, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. But regardless, in the summer of 2009, New Taipei’s dog problem was out of control, at least by local standards. It wasn’t the pets themselves — it was their poop. New Taipei City didn’t like the fact that many dog owners weren’t cleaning up after their pets, leaving piles of you-know-what on the sidewalks. In addition to fining people for their dog’s untended-to misdeeds, the city added some positive reinforcement. That is, there was a reward system. The city gave out T$100 — about three or four U.S. dollars — for every kilogram of doody collected and returned to the sanitation department. The hope was to incentivize dog owners to pick up after their pets, or perhaps to inspire a group of volunteers to do so in their stead But, as the Globe and Mail reported, that program didn’t work; it “yielded little more than criticism and ridicule.”

And yet, New Taipei didn’t give up. They just changed tactics. In 2011, they came up with another solution: a dog poop lottery.

Starting in August of that year, the city gave out plastic bags to whoever wanted them, in hopes that they’d be used to pick up doggy doo. Per Taiwan’s Central News Agency, anyone who gave a bag of dog poop to the New Taipei sanitation teams would receive a small reward — a raffle ticket. That winter, the city picked the winners of the raffle, and the top three received a big hunk of gold. The third place winner received an ingot worth T$12,000 — about $420 American at the time. The second place winner took home the equivalent of $630, and the first prize was an ingot worth about $2,100. That’s a big haul for picking up poop.

By all accounts, the program was a successful one. The BBC reported that over the course of the campaign, “more than 4,000 people [ . . . ] collected 14,500 bags of excrement.” And it’s unclear who grabbed the poop. As the BBC further notes, city officials “did not know whether the collectors were dog owners who were suddenly motivated by gold to be more responsible or whether they were other citizens who simply wanted to win.” Regardless, it was a winning program — by some estimates, the amount of dog doo polluting New Taipei’s fell by a half.

Unfortunately, bringing your dog to Taiwan in hopes of making and scooping up an award-winning dookie — well, that’s a plan that won’t work any longer. The prizes were simply too expensive to warrant continuing the program.

Bonus fact: Scooby Doo’s name isn’t a reference to Scooby’s doo. It’s a homage to Frank Sinatra’s nonsense “doo-bee-doo-bee-doo” lyrics in his hit song, “Strangers in the Night.”

From the Archives: Wi-Fido: Wi-Fi, powered by dog poop.