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9-27-2002  

When doody calls, Sir Scoop answers

By Amie Parnes
Philadelphia Inquirer

It had been sitting underneath the wooden deck for a week.

Untouched.

With Romeo, a shar-pei, and Nicholas, a Siberian husky, circling him, Mike Zlotnick bent down and started picking it up - as if he were hand-picking nuggets of gold.

"See?" he said one morning after pulling a pair of yellow latex gloves onto his hands and combing the back yard for dog droppings. "This job's nothin'."

Zlotnick, 39, is a professional pooper scooper. He runs a company out of Cheltenham called Poopie Scoopers R Us.

His job description: "I scoop poop."

His clients - he says he has 300 of them in the region - call him Sir Scoop.

A whole cottage industry of scoopers has emerged around the country in recent years, from Scoopity Doo Dog in Oceanside, Calif., to Yucko's in Missouri to Clean Scoop in Philadelphia.

This year, the pooper scoopers started a trade association called Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists, or aPAWS. They have a chat board on the Internet and have published a book on "how to start your own low-cost, high-profit dog waste removal service."

An Ohio man on one of the group's two Web sites (www.pooper-scooper.com and apaws.org) claimed he was making $20,000 a month as a scooper. He calls himself King Scoop.

And the first-ever pooper scooper convention was held last fall in Las Vegas, bringing an air of respectability to these entrepreneurs with a nose for business opportunities.

"It smells like money to us," said Debra Levy, owner of Yucko's in St. Louis and a member of the trade association. "Like diamonds in the rough."

Scooping is a job that does not bleed ego. No PowerPoint presentation is needed to explain the task. No devilish pitch and well-worn psalms to stone-faced men in pin-striped suits. No padded job title.

This job is what it is.

"Everyone's got needs," Zlotnick said with a shrug. "They have theirs. I have mine."

Zlotnick got into scooping after he was laid off three years ago from the scrap metal business and saw a newspaper ad from a little girl who offered to "poopie scoop" for $5 a dog.

"I thought, 'I can do that!' " he said.

Ever since, he has been paid $7.50 per dog, per week, for dog owners who are just too busy or too disgusted to pick up after their dogs. The rates are cheaper for those who want pickups more than once a week.

Along with three other men, he cleans the yards of 25 to 30 homes a day.

"People have got lives," Zlotnick said in an unapologetic tone, explaining why there is a need for pooper scoopers. "They've got kids. They can't be mining their yards for the nasty stuff. They don't have the time."

To prove his point, he pulled out a Rolodex of customers:

A lawyer in New Hope with two dogs.

A magazine editor in Philadelphia with three.

A businessman who "lives on Allen Iverson's block."

"Hey, dogs go once or twice a day," he explained as he combed through the grass at a lawyer's modern home in a neighborhood where big dogs guard the front lawn and Porsches and convertible Mercedes prowl by. "Multiply that by seven days."

Pooper-scooper service has become a status symbol for some, said Mel Levy, owner of When Doody Calls in Middletown, N.J., which operates throughout central New Jersey.

"The only time they have to think about dog poop is when they sign my check," said Levy, a former veterinary technician who said she got into the business after making her children pick up after their pets.

"Sometimes I wish I had a scooper," she said.

The job is not degrading, Levy said. It pays the bills. In just a year, Levy said, she has built a loyal clientele and regular paychecks. It has paid for her new truck and her computer.

Despite being profitable, the business draws its share of giggles and wisecracks.

"It's still a hard topic to bring up," said Kevin Schmitt, 32, who owns Clean Scoop, based in Philadelphia. "People poke fun at me and my customers.

"It's not easy being a pooper scooper."

After the snickers subside, customers readily admit they are grateful for the service.

Carol Goft said she was tired of picking up after her Labrador retrievers, Charlie and Sammie, who roam the back yard, leaving "occasional presents." "It really bothered me," she said.

Then she saw a newspaper ad about a year ago that read, "Tired of picking up Fido's droppings?"

"I said, 'Yes, I'm very tired of it!,' " said Goft, of Flourtown. "I thought, 'Why not?' It's cheaper than a manicure."

Now, when Goft returns home from work at the medical practice she owns with her husband, Jason, she has a nicely knotted bag waiting for her atop her garbage can, signaling it is safe to walk barefoot in her yard again.

In happy, red lettering, the bag reads: "Thank you for shopping here."

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