An Inside Scoop On Running A Professional Dog Poop Scooping Business
It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it! We talk to a professional dog Pooper Scooper to get the “scoop” on this crappy, but necessary job.
Did you know that International Pooper Scooper Week runs from April 1 to 7… and no, this ISN’T an April Fool’s joke. It’s for real, and it’s a week that I can get behind (no pun intended). It’s the right time of year to run this educational campaign; the snow is melting, revealing a winter’s worth of unclaimed dog droppings. I don’t get how dog owners can think that a layer of snow would somehow make this pile of poop somehow disappear.
And I’m not the only one who’s sick of this crap. Because I’m the editor of a pet site and a pet parent, irate neighbors always come to me with their issues about dog waste left on their lawn. It’s not just an eye sore, but it’s a potential health risk. Dogs and humans step in the poop and carry it into the house. You may not be able to see them, but that poop contains parasites that can get the whole family sick. But if these sickly facts and sights don’t persuade you to pick up your dog’s poop, what are you going to do?
You call the dog poop professionals.
Yep, this is a legitimate business, one that’s been successful for Erin Erman, CPO (that’s Chief Poop Officer) of Dirty Work Pooper Scooper Service in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve never met a pro-poop picker, so as you can imagine, I had a few important questions (at least to me) to ask her. Inquiring minds need to know!
PG: How did you get the idea of a poop scooping business?
Erin: I was very stressed out and disillusioned by my job in the tech industry. Knowing I was an animal lover and always liked being outdoors, my step-mother jokingly told me of a story she had read in the National Enquirer at her hairdressers about a woman that was making her living as a Professional Pooper Scooper. I laughed but then quickly thought, “Hey, that’s a pretty good idea!” And a new Atlanta business was born in 1998.
PG: What do people say when you tell them what you do for a living? Do they ask if you washed your hands before shaking?
Erin: Mostly they smile or laugh. We do get some people that look down their noses at us for it, but dog poop doesn’t clean itself! We actually had a neighbor of a client stand out on his deck and tease us while we worked – a couple weeks later, he asked for a card and signed up himself. Once people get used to the idea, it starts sounding pretty good to them.
PG: How many people work for you? How do you recruit for the position of “Professional Pooper Scooper?” (Side note: Do they wear a shirt with Professional Pooper Scooper on it – if so, I really want one!)
Erin: The number varies, but we typically have 5-8 people in the field at any given time. We do have Dirty Work shirts and caps; we can’t have unidentified people walking around backyards after all – and do we get some comments when we stop for gas and errands. Some people think we are doing some sort of prank or joke.
People have never asked for a shirt, but they love showing others our business card. (It’s a dog on a toilet that says, “Until then, call us.”)
PG: What’s your funniest dog poop-related story?
Erin: We’ve had a few fabled incidents. One time a dog ate a child’s toy and when we went to clean the yard, we saw two big plastic white eyeballs staring up at us from a pile of waste. It actually inspired one of our cartoon logos that we frequently use.
Another time a very shamed-sounding man called and requested us to come out ASAP. His wife had been asking him over and over to pooper scoop the yard before her visiting family arrived. He didn’t get around to it and just as soon as his mother-in-law stepped out in the yard to play with the grandkids, she slipped in some poo, fell and broke her arm. If they would have had a doghouse he certainly would have been in it.
PG: Other than poop, what other interesting things have you found in your scooping expeditions? What did you do with them?
Erin: Chewed up dollar bills used to be pretty common, but perhaps people don’t carry as much cash now because we don’t really experience that one any longer. But we’ve seen it all: Legos, a Barbie shoe, lots of gift wrapping paper, aluminum foil – you name it.
We did have a client ask to be on the lookout for a valued family ring. We would have left that one double bagged by their door – the separating from the waste would have definitely been up to them!
Once we walked into a client’s backyard and had to call her with the bad news that her 2 Labs had completely pulled the downspouts and parts of the attached gutters right off the back of her house.
PG: What kind of people are the worst poop offenders, in your opinion? For example – is age, income or where they live an indicator of how vigilant they are about picking up their dog’s poop?
Erin: There is one thing we have learned in all our research and years in business: no matter what part of the country, age, marital status and so on, a certain percentage of the population will never, ever pick up after their dog. The stats are that 40 percent of people don’t scoop the poop, but anecdotally, we believe the number is actually higher than that.
And especially these days, free time is in such short supply for people that the last thing they want to do when they finally have a moment is to go down in their yard and deal with smelly dog mess. We keep a price point that makes us scooping for them an attractive alternative.
PG: Who hires you? Is it pet parents, the city of Atlanta, special events, etc.?
Erin: Our clients are a mix of residential single-family homes, multi-family communities (apartments, condos, etc), Home Owners Associations, and parks and dog parks. We also get people giving our service as a gift to families with a new baby or people that travel frequently and that sort of thing. And many spouses hire us as a “hint, hint” to the other spouse!
PG: What tools do you use to pick up the poop? Do you employ bags, shovel, vacuum, hazmat suits, etc.?
Erin: We have a few different tools of the trade. We mostly modify janitorial supplies such as lobby pans and long handled spades and also use things like push brooms to scrub decks and patios if a pup left a little ‘present’ on a solid surface. We use large landscape garden style sprayers to disinfect our tools and footwear between each property.
PG: How much poop (in weight/pounds) would you say you pick up in an average year?
Erin: I cannot even imagine how many thousands of pounds we pick up from Atlanta properties each year, but all our Pooper Scoopers have pretty good biceps, that’s for sure.
Each Scooper Tech will have picked up a minimum of 4-5 large leaf bags of dog waste each and every day. We pick up a lot of poop!
PG: Where does the dog poop you collect go?
Erin: At this time the best place for it is still bagged and in the landfill. It’s what the Department of Agriculture recommends, and we comply. Landfills have special liners that are designed to handle this sort of waste, cat litter, dirty diapers, etc. Some companies are starting to work on commercial composting, but it is a highly precise process that includes extended exposure to 140-degree temperatures to kill things like E. coli and Salmonella. It isn’t yet a practical alternative, but hopefully soon. Even commercial yard waste processors do not currently compost waste at temperatures sufficient to kill many pathogens in pet waste.
PG: Is there a slow poop season, or do you pick up all year long?
It always surprises people, but summer is our slowest season. We believe it’s because people are traveling and having some good summer fun. The other seasons of the year require them to stay closer to home with their families and pets. We scoop the poop rain or shine, hot or cold.
Erin: We read that as a marketing tip and gave it a try, but boy, oh boy… people didn’t like that at all. Even though we were smiling and being totally upbeat about it, I guess perhaps they felt embarrassed by being “caught.” So now we just smile and say hello. Sometimes the conversation about what we “doo” organically comes about, but if not, we just carry on.
PG: Why do you think it’s necessary to have an official Pooper Scooper week?
Erin: Most people think dog waste is just something they don’t want to step in. They have no idea that it is also an EPA designated environmental pollutant and is as toxic to the environment as chemical and oil spills. Major cities and also states like Maryland have initiated “Pick up the Poop” campaigns because of the dog waste storm water pollution they are experiencing (ammonia increases in the water that kill fish, algae blooms that deprive the water from oxygen and so forth).
That’s not to mention that dog feces carries harmful parasites and pathogens and zoonotic diseases that make people sick as well as other animals.
Whether a person does it themselves or hires a service, no one should leave poop behind. Out of sight is not out of mind in this case.
PG: What advice/tips would you offer someone looking to open a poop scooping business of their own?
Erin: Be patient and don’t give up your day job. It took us years to establish routes with clients near one another and to start to turn a profit. Luckily, I am very stubborn so not succeeding wasn’t an option!