How I Became a Professional Pooper-Scooper

I’ve always been interested in new and different ideas, especially ideas about making money.

Even as a kid I had my little money-making projects. Whether picking wild berries in the woods in Maryland, putting on a magic show, pet shows, lemonade stands, newspaper route, I managed to keep myself occupied and provide enough funds to provide myself with spending money. And I also enjoy doing things that are just a little out of the ordinary.

Still…. the first time I heard that someone was offering to clean up after people’s dogs for a weekly fee, I just laughed — I had to! I had never heard of such a thing — a person going around cleaning up after people’s dogs for a fee. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I mean, here was a job that obviously has to be done, but a lot of people prefer not to do it themselves.

So I spent the Winter of 1987-1988 studying and planning; spending time in the local libraries in the few hours I had available between the two full-time jobs I was working (making less than $6 an hour at each of them).

I learned that there were about 100,000 dogs within 15 miles of my home. I wouldn’t have to have even one percent of them in order to have enough customers to improve my life. I studied ways to scoop large quantities in the shortest time. I practiced with different tools, using “simulated dog waste” to time how long it would take to clean a yard.

Back in those days I was living in a tiny upstairs apartment, and I didn’t even have a car. But I vividly remember walking a half mile through the snow to catch a bus for work, and saying to myself over and over, “Someday I’m not going to have to do this anymore!” I had hold of an idea that I KNEW was going to take off, and it was not going to take much money to make it happen.

In the first month of the business, I spent a total of about $150 for tools, flyers, cards, and a couple of very small classified ads. I got a few customers right off the bat, and made my initial investment back, plus profit, after just a couple of weeks. And that’s how I got into the dog waste removal service business.

Little by little, constant improvements began to add up. Step by step, my little business was making customers happy and getting bigger and bigger. The first vehicle I could buy to use just for business was an old Honda Civic for which I paid $300. But my customer list kept growing. I began hiring employees when I couldn’t do all the work by myself. When I had several people working for me I hired someone whom I knew could become a good manager. After a few years that person was able to take over more and more of the daily operation of the business.

The service outgrew the home-office and became an employer of 7 workers, with a fleet of 6 pickup trucks — serving between 650 and 700 regular weekly customers. I was making a personal income of about $45,000 a year and spending most of my time with my family, traveling, reading, and doing the things I enjoy. After ten years I felt it was time to move on to new projects. For me it was time to focus on some new ideas, so I sold my business to an excellent manager whom I know will continue to improve the business and serve the customers well. Over the years I’ve had so many requests for information that I finally put it all down on paper. Complete details about operations, office procedures, actual samples of successful marketing materials, distilling my own decade of experience in starting up from almost nothing and building a successful, thriving, well-liked and profitable dog waste removal service business.

Ten Frequently Asked Questions about the Dog Waste Removal Service Business:

1) “Is this for real!?” It certainly is! I’ll readily admit it sounds pretty funny at first. But all over the country new dog waste removal services are being started, and customers are signing up for them. Demographics and social trends point to an accelerating demand for personal services for busy professionals and executives, single parent households, and people who simply have better things to do than scoop up after dogs.

2) “How do you charge for this service?” Scoopers make excellent profits! Prices around the U.S. vary from about $10 per dog per week to more than $15 per week. Cleaning an average of 6 yards per hour earns $60 per hour! With 650 clients, I was depositing checks for more than $20,000.00 per month. Even if you generate only half that amount you can hire others, pay them a great wage, and still net excellent profits for yourself.

3) “What do you do with the waste you collect?” The best disposal method will vary according to local regulations and available facilities. Some simply place the waste into plastic bags and leave it in the customer’s trash cans. Others share a trash bin with another small business or take the waste directly to a local landfill. You’ll need to check the rules in your area.

4) “How do you get customers?” Make effective use of publicity and inexpensive marketing. Successful marketing is a cumulative effect of various media and methods such as classified ads in neighborhood weekly newspapers, business cards, fliers, voice mail scripts, vehicle signs, and listing your service in directories on the Internet.

5) “How long does it take to clean a yard?” Some small yards or dog runs can be cleaned in just a few minutes. A first-time or one-time cleanup in a yard that hasn’t been cleaned for a year or more could take an hour! — Of course, you’ll charge extra for those jobs. Overall I could average 6 yards per hour over the course of week’s work, including travel time. My employees productivity ranged from 4 to 7 yards per hour.

6) ” What kind of tools do you use?” Forget about those scissors-type “pooper-scoopers” sold in pet shops. They’re simply not made for this kind of work. Use a “lobby dust pan,” a small shovel and plastic trash bags to quickly and cleanly scoop up dog waste. You’ll learn techniques that will enable you to be sure of finding all the waste in a yard without wasting precious time.

7) “What do you do in the winter?” Work! Sometimes the snow postpones a day’s work, but usually it melts in a day or two and you can catch up later the same week. Dogs keep doing their thing all year long, and if you didn’t keep up with it through the winter, things can get awfully foul by Spring.

8) “Could you also clean apartments and condo grounds?” Absolutely! Most of your work will probably be in the back yards of single-family homes, but many professional scoopers service commercial accounts, too. These kinds of clients will each pay you hundreds of extra dollars each month.

9) “Why would anyone pay you to clean up after dogs?” Busy dog-owners are delighted to pay someone to have this done! Many dog owners need a way to dispose pet waste that is both legal and practical. Some cities’ refuse departments prohibit the placement of animal waste in with residential refuse. Uncollected dog feces is a significant contributor to ground water pollution. Uncleaned back yards stink, they annoy the neighbors and attract flies that lay their eggs on the feces and then move on. Pets and people using dirty yards track poop into the house. You can provide simple, neat, and cost-effective solutions to all these problems and more. Lack of time; physical difficulty; and the “Repugnance Factor” mean many people are more than happy to pay someone to do this necessary chore. Some clients even tell us we are a “godsend” and credit us with stopping family quarrels!

10) “Is there really a market for this?” Yes! This is a new and rapidly expanding market. My business reached 700 clients each week and it’s still growing with a new owner. A Colorado service cleans more than 2,000 yards each week! I know two owners of dog waste services in Saint Louis, and some cities are supporting four or more services. Professional pooper-scoopers now operate in Canada, Australia, and many states in the USA.

The Goldfinch: A Stunning Literary Epic

Two challenging questions pose for the readers of the sensational, 800+pages novel, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: What unifying role does the goldfinch work of art play in the story, and Is it better to follow one’s heart or one’s mind? First, the painting symbolizes the idea that all humans are “chained” to their fate. Therefore, if this be the case, then it matters little whether individuals follow their hearts or their minds. In Tartt’s epic tale, the characters all end up experiencing misfortune. When a terrorist explosion in a New York City museum kills his mother, an antiques dealer’s business partner, and injures a young girl, among others, Theo Decker, who, with his mother, has run into the building out of a downpour (It rains much of the time in Tartt’s NYC, a forewarning of unfavorable consequences for many of the book’s characters) the young 12-year-old narrator does two things that will have significant bearings on the future. He stops by the dying man {Welty}, who gives him a disk with instructions to deliver it to his partner Hobie, a furniture restorer, and on a fleeting impulse steals the famous, small painting of the goldfinch, which is considered by scholars as the greatest work of art in history. It is only later that Theo learns through social workers that his mother, who was shopping in another area for a gift, had been killed in the explosion.

The novel has three settings; New York City, Las Vegas, and the Netherlands, where the epic reaches its shocking climax. It can be separated into at least five parts:

Part I covers events from the explosion, Theo’s foster parents the Balfours, and his meeting Hobie to his moving to Las Vegas with his estranged father, a gambler, and his girl friend, a casino worker.

Part II-Theo finds his new home boring, too hot, and lacking transit service to their house in a bleak subdivision. Out of the lack of activities he befriends a boy named Boris, a Middle-European who mixes English, Ukrainian, and Russian freely. Two things happen: Boris introduces Theo {He nicknames him Potter because Theo’s eyeglasses remind him of Harry Potter} to drugs, and Theo’s father has gambling debts he can’t pay. The stay in Las Vegas ends after a tragic accident. Theo flees with the family dog Popper (Popchik, as Boris nicknames him)) and ends up, where else, but New York City. The city is not the friendly place he had found it when he moved to Las Vegas. Desolate, cold, feverish and hungry, he ends up at the antique shop, where he had found refuge following his mother’s death.

Part III–Theo learns more about antiques and furniture restoring and reunites with his former foster family.

Part IV-The novel jumps ahead several years. Theo has become Hobie’s business partner, handling sales and the account files. Three things happen: Theo becomes engaged to the girl he doesn’t really love; he has to buy back antiques when the buyers discover that Theo had been selling restored items as original objects. One customer, a scammer, troubles him, and makes trouble for the young man. Enter Boris again, a successful man in a questionable business. They spend a lot of time drinking and getting high on drugs. The Middle-European friend reveals a shocking secret that almost breaks the string holding their friendship together.

Part V-Boris introduces Theo to some of his unethical friends, Theo’s engagement party is held, and Boris persuades Theo to fly with him to Holland to settle a deal that will pacify Theo. Matters get out of hand and Theo doesn’t have his passport to get out of the country. There are several scenes in his hotel in which he takes drugs, has nightmares, and one dream about his mother that deters suicide plans in favor of going to the police.

One may ask: “What’s been happening to the painting of The Goldfinch throughout the novel? ” That would be giving away too much of the power of the work of art in Theo’s and Boris’ lives.

Although The Goldfinch is an engrossing tale in itself, it is Tartt’s style that provides its extraordinary force and uniqueness. Her command of dialogue, her loving details of different kinds of wood, and Hobie’s caring, painstaking approach to restoring antiques, the author’s insights into various works of art, her extensive knowledge of drugs, their effects, and their omnipresence, of landscapes, sailing, bus trip, language, and pets fulfills the claims that the long novel is a literary classic. Following is an example of the author’s style: (Hobie introduces Theo to some of the finer details of wood) “So,” he said, leading me downstairs. “The shop behind the shop… where the important work happens. “Right,” I said, looking down at the labyrinth at the foot of the stairs, blond wood like honey, dark wood like poured molasses, gleams of brass and gilt and silver in the weak light.”

The Goldfinch is an oil-on-canvas painting that was completed by Dutch Master Carel Fabritius in 1654. The painting is considered one of the great works of art. Coincidentally Fabritius died in an explosion at a gunpowder facility, in which most of his paintings were destroyed. The Goldfinch was one of the few that survived the blast that destroyed much of the Dutch city.. For her novel Tartt wanted to narrate a compelling coming-of-age tale in which a young boy impulsively steals a painting after another explosion.

Tartt does not churn out best sellers, perhaps one about every ten years. Her best seller The Secret History, a novel about some New England scholars who conspire to commit the perfect murder. Ten years later she published The Little Friend, another coming-of-age tale, but it failed to receive the popularity that the previous novel did. Ambitious efforts are already underway to turn The Goldfinch into possibly a miniseries for television.

Shackles

“Chief, this is a hot one”, I somehow managed to say in a quivering voice as I choked back tears, “please stop what you are doing and get this message out to the fleet, top priority”. “Aye aye sir,” came the customary nautical acknowledgement, as the Chief grabbed the message and hurried off in the direction of the Communications Center.

After only a few steps, however, apparently having read the first few lines of the message, Chief Petty Officer Smith stopped suddenly in his tracks and turned back toward me in disbelief. His mouth opened, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. I knew what he was thinking and solemnly nodded my head in understanding.

Composing himself, he turned back around and headed again toward the Communications Center. The message would be electronically forwarded to major Coast Guard units in a matter of minutes for further dissemination to smaller units. Soon everyone would know.

I glanced again at my copy of the message I had just received from one of our isolated stations in the South Pacific. The Officer in Charge was sending the sad news that Seaman Shackles had passed away during the night.

Seaman Shackles wasn’t really a Seaman. He wasn’t even a person. He was a Labrador Retriever…a dog; but a very special dog. He had been the cherished mascot of a Coast Guard Loran Station for over a decade.

Most of the 200-plus Coast Guard operational shore units are staffed with a “Station Dog” like Shackles. This unofficial member of the crew is usually “enlisted” from a local shelter and made an honorary member of the crew.

Breed and gender are not important. The only prerequisite for the job is an affinity to love and be loved. To this end, the station dog must be able to stand up to constant pampering and endure massive amounts of stroking and hugs.

Once onboard the base, the station dog must also work like any other member of the crew, albeit at somewhat less demanding duties. He/she must patrol the compound (in search of handouts); escort emergency crews to their response boats (for a pat on the head); and, enthusiastically greet those coming on watch (to conduct an olfactory once-over of their lunch bags).

As a member of the crew, the station dog is at liberty to dig holes, jump in vehicles with muddy feet, and borrow the only softball during a scheduled off-duty game with impunity. They are first in line at chow, last to settle down for the night and enjoy amnesty for anything chewed, buried or soiled.

Generally they are the best fed and most pampered animals on the planet; but they earn those privileges. They render a service that no other crewmember can provide. They make a station a home.

Shackles earned his privileges. He made his station home. He was eleven human years old when he passed, but during his short life he built a legacy that would far outlive him. Hundreds of sailors had been stationed at this isolated outpost during Shackles lifetime and he had befriended them all.

In the days when e-mail and cell phones were nothing more than growing ideas in the minds of electronic engineers, families were not just a push of the button away. Often mail would take a month to arrive. Dogs like Shackles played a critical role as companion and friend.

It was common for sailors to become lonely and homesick on this little strip of land in the middle of the ocean. Many found a piece of home in Shackles. He wanted to be everyone’s friend. If you were lonely, if you needed a friend, he was your boy. He always had time for you.

Without realizing the role he played, Shackles made life on the island bearable for many. One could run up the beach with this loving communal canine and forget, at least temporarily, that they missed home. Over the years he had impacted thousands of lives in just this way.

All of them had come and gone, but he remained. They were honored for their year-long sacrifice with military decorations and great fanfare, but not Shackles. He remained an unsung hero; but he didn’t mind. He enjoyed doing his part and that was all the reward he needed.

Nevertheless, when he passed, his song was finally sung by a fleet of heartbroken, grateful sailors. A shipmate had fallen and it was time to honor him for his service.

The Quiet Friendship Between My Dog and Myself

The relationship between my dog and myself is something that I have enjoyed during the past 12 years. My dog, Klink, was purchased for a nominal fee, during a time when a puppy was the last thing I needed in my life. I had two young boys who demanded my time and energy. The thought process on obtaining a puppy was strictly for them to bond with and enjoy.

I had a dog, Snowball, as a child, and have numerous memories of her being my “buddy” when I lived on the farm. Snowball was always willing to go explore the orchards, the barn, the “bald eagle” hill where sledding was the absolute best hill in the country. I figured if I could share in this bonding experience with my children, of them having a dog, it would enrich their lives, and hopefully mine also. Little did I know how attached I would become to this dog.

Klink has gone from a puppy into adulthood, and now I find she is entering her senior years. The timing has been perfect regarding Klink joining our family. At 6 months old Klink had a mishap at the vet’s office that changed her entire temperament. The once easy going puppy turned into an aggressive, mean spirited, untrusting pup. The saying of “Fleet or Fight” took on a whole new meaning when I was explained what had happened to my pup. At the vet’s advice, I was told that this pup was not to be trusted and in our best interest, she should be put down. Instead of accepting this outcome, I instead enrolled my pup in obedience classes and spent many an hour walking her, working on commands and regaining the trust that she had lost.

The months of working with her turned her into a wonderful pet. When the leash and collar were brought out, she would wiggle with anticipation of our time together. With such high energy, she was kept busy with the boys, playing in the field and hanging out where ever they were. Now the boys are older, busy with work and sports, here sits Klink and I. Our relationship has aged also. No longer is she the high energy dog that she once was,. She is slow to react to sounds, half the time not hearing anyone’s arrival until they are directly beside her. She is content to sleep her day away.

My life too, has slowed down from what it was when the boys were younger. I find I have more time to spend doing things at a pace that is not as crazy as before. My son’s dog has turned to me for security. She follows me wherever I happen to be. My latest endeavor has been to start a greenhouse and I find that I am spending hours of my free time working with my plants. At any given time, I can glance out the window and Klink is laying in the yard, always close to where I am working. I have piece of mind that my faithful dog is my protector, always beside me.

I now have time to just sit with Klink. To stretch out with her on the grass and feel the warmth on her coat as the sun beats down on her. Her front paw will raise and lower back down on my leg, just as if she were holding onto me. One simple movement of friendship and contentment is shown to me. A relationship between my dog and myself is something that I have enjoyed; Never would I have thought that the pup who was purchased for my children would turn out to be such a wonderful friend to me.