Doggie Doo Pros Race to Scoop Poop
Pet Ownership Fuels Demand for Services; Rake, Shovel or Hand?
By RAYMUND FLANDEZ and STEPHANIE CHEN
February 26, 2008
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Dog poop is nothing to sniff at --
a huge growth in the business has prompted the explosion of professional pooper scoopers around the country. Many are competing to be Top Dog. WSJ's Raymund Flandez and Stephanie Chen report.
ATLANTA -- Dog poop is nothing to sniff at -- a huge growth in the business has prompted the explosion of professional pooper scoopers around the country. And many are competing to be Top Dog.
Last month, at the fifth annual convention of the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists, dog-poop picker-uppers faced off to see who had the best and quickest technique to pick up more than two dozen or so plastic poop. They were made to look like real ones and were scattered over a grassy area of an Atlanta hotel for the group's "Turd-Herding Contest: Rake, Shovel or Hand?" Some used special rakes and hoes, or forgo that method for gloved hands.
The boom in pet waste removal comes at a time when pet ownership is at an all-time high, yards are smaller than ever and home services are exploding as breadwinners are busier and don't have time to mess with the cleanup. Plus, stricter pooper-scooper laws and greater awareness of health hazards of doggie excrement have also helped prop the burgeoning industry. Some have even franchised their business, such as Pet Butler Franchise Services Inc. and DoodyCalls Franchising. aPaws has grown from 12 businesses in 2002 to about 200 today.
It's a service that's becoming more popular, just like having someone clean the pool, wash the car, walk the dogs or clean the house. "They'd rather spend time with their kids, and play with their dog than picking up after them," says Timothy Stone, co-founder of the organization and owner of Scoop Masters USA Inc. of Santa Clarita, Calif. Members typically charge about $8 to $10 per visit for one dog, once a week. Cheresee Rehart, owner of Yard Guards on Doody of Tampa, Fla., will be making $100,000 this year from her 110 customers -- a far cry from when she started the company in June 2003 with $40 to buy a book on professional pet waste scooping.
There are 74.8 million pet dogs in the U.S., according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc. And a typical pooch produces 274 pounds of poo each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, pet services accounted for $3 billion out of the total $41.2 billion spent on U.S. pets -- with annual expenses for dogs topping $1,425 per year.
In the first turd-herding contest held in St. Louis in January 2003, cut-up potatoes were used instead of fake poop, which is now used. This year, prunes were also added. Rules abound: Contestants must conduct their poop-scooping in the same manner as they would use normally around their clients, meaning "no shoving, jumping fences, urinating in public, dressing inappropriately." Also, running is prohibited and physical contact with the another contestant (like tackling, which has happened in past events) is a no-no.
In the industry, people have always debated what's the fastest method of picking up dog poop, Mr. Stone says. "So we just decided, why don't we just have the contest, and we'll see what's the fastest?"
This year, the title went to a teenager.
Christopher Trauco, a 19-year-old of Tyrone, Ga., owns Scoop D'Poo (www.scoopdpoo.com) and was the youngest winner the contest has ever crowned as the aPaws "King of Crap." Mr. Trauco won by picking up 28 rubber poops in two minutes. He chose to not use a shovel or rake or any other doggy tool. Rather, he used one latex glove and his right hand. He says he usually uses his hand in his business, because it saves more time and money on disinfectants.
"I was really worried about other people who decided to use tools," Mr. Trauco says. "It was a lot of pressure, and I wanted to win. It really helped that I was in athletics in high school."
Mr. Trauco started his own pooper-scooper business at 16. He runs about 20 miles a day and has also participated on a cheerleading squad.
He received an 11-inch high rectangular-shaped plaque with an embedded golden shovel. Second place ("The No. 2 Award") and third place winners scooped up 24 and 23 fake dog-turds, respectively. There were no tiebreakers, so no scoop-off.