R5 Professional Pooper-Scooper: Doodycalls

So what’s the formal name for a professional pooper-scooper?
Pet waste-removal technician.

And what exactly does a pet waste-removal technician do?
A trained technician picks up dog waste with a rake and pan on a client’s property, puts it in a bag, and properly disposes of it.

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Kind of gross, no?
Compared to what I’ve seen as a police scuba diver for the New York Police Department, which I also am, nope.

How much poop is removed on a typical weekly visit?
For one or two dogs, usually about five to eight pounds. A single dog goes twice a day, so that’s about fourteen piles a week.

Where does the poop go after it’s been scooped?
Depending on the town and the client preference, it’s either removed and brought to a dump or placed in the resident’s outdoor trash cans.

Do you clean up after any other kind of animal?
We once had a potbellied pig, and we’ve also been called in for deer poop.

Do you clean up after geese?
Yes. Goose poop can be a huge issue. One goose alone is responsible for one-and-a-half pounds of waste per day.

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How much do you charge?
It depends upon the size of the property and the number of dogs, but generally speaking, for two dogs on a half-acre, it’s twenty to twenty-five dollars a visit for once a week and a little less per visit for twice weekly. A spring cleanup usually runs about one hundred to one hundred fifty dollars.

What do people say when you tell them what you do?
When we first started back in 2001, people seemed almost offended. ‘I don’t know why anyone pays you to do that’ was a typical response. But now, it’s, ‘Wow, that’s pretty ingenious.’ It’s like cleaning ladies—it used to be seen as a luxury, but now everyone seems to have one.

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What qualities do you look for in hiring a professional pooper-scooper?
I prefer people who like dogs and, ideally, have one. And they should be someone who’s able to walk at least four or five miles a day, is friendly, outgoing, and responsible, because they are on a customer’s property unsupervised. I do background checks on all of them.

How is business?
It’s grown about twenty to forty percent over the last three years. Last October and November were a little rough, but by January, we were able to breathe easier.

Do you have dogs at home? If so, who cleans up after them?
We have a husky and malamute, and I clean up after both of them.

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What made you decide to get into this business?
We had had a pet food home-delivery business and it wasn’t doing that well; we needed a way to supplement our income. We lived in a condo at the time and I hated cleaning up after our dogs and so it occurred to me that others might feel the same way. So we sent out a questionnaire to our customer base to gauge interest and the response was overwhelming. We started in 2001 and it ended up really taking off and being more lucrative than the food delivery, so we closed the food delivery service in 2003.

What kinds of people hire you?
Busy people. It runs the gamut from single individuals to families, and anywhere from a town employee to a financial planner. But Westchester is definitely a service-oriented county where people are used to hiring others to do things for them.

How many employees do you have?
In the beginning, my wife and I were the sole source of labor. Now we have eight employees—six techs and two in the office.

What was the grossest cleanup you ever encountered?
I remember one property where I wasn’t able to take a step in any direction without stepping in something; it was literally covered end to end in dog feces. We ended up taking away forty or fifty pounds of waste.

Have you ever had to stop providing your services because a dog was too aggressive?
That’s happened less than a handful of times since we’ve been in business. But you do have to be cautious; even a friendly Lab can growl at you.

What kinds of dogs make the biggest messes?
Big dogs like mastiffs and St. Bernards.

What are the most common breeds of dog you clean up after?
It used to be Labs and retrievers, but lately we’ve been seeing a lot of Labradoodles and so-called designer dogs.

What’s more common: dogs who have a favorite spot or those who go all over the yard?
Most have a favorite spot, but we walk the whole yard every time to make sure.

How long does it take to service a typical property?
An acre takes about thirty minutes; a half-acre, ten to fifteen minutes.

How many clients does your business service in a typical week?
Typically, hundreds a week.

What equipment does a pooper-scooper need?
A rake and a pan, large vinyl degradable bags, contractor boots, hand sanitizer, and a disinfectant sprayer for the tools.

Is there a busy season for your line of work?
Our busy season starts in March—when the snow melts, everyone wants a spring cleaning—and runs through May or June. We’re slower in July and August because everyone goes away, and then we pick up again in the middle of September through November. Though it slows down a bit in the winter, we are out there in the snow all winter long—dogs don’t like to tramp far in the snow so homeowners end up with lots of piles near the front door that they want removed.

Has your business been affected by the economy?
I definitely had some sleepless nights last October and November; it seemed like people would do their finances over the weekends and we’d get calls to cancel service on Mondays. But December was steady and in January of this year, business started picking up again.

When properties are serviced, what percentage of dogs are outside versus indoors?
Seventy percent of the time the dogs are outside.

What did you do before you started this business in 2001?
I was—and still am—a police detective.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a police officer and own my own business. I’ve accomplished both.

Did your family have dogs growing up? If so, who took care of them?
We always had Airedales and I was the one who walked and picked up after them.

Any scary run-ins with any clients’ dogs?
When we walk around to the back of a house, we always make noise, so if a dog is outside, it knows we are coming and is not startled. Once when I was training a new tech, we did this and when we turned the corner, the dog, who was in its doghouse, charged out of its house. We left the equipment and ran!

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