Getting down and dirty with the thankless—yet profitable—job of picking up after someone else’s pets.
On an unseasonably beautiful Sunday morning in north Toronto, Russ (a.k.a. “The Scooperman”) flipped a piece of dog poop into a white garbage bag. And then another. And another. Sludgy bowel movements peppered a wintry Forest Hill backyard—a whole week’s worth of droppings that had been unveiled by the melting snow. The mess was money in the bank for Russ, whose job was to pick up all the excrement in sight. Two excited terriers clamoured at the patio door to get out, eager to generate more.
It was the perfect weather for Scooperman to do a pick-up. When it’s raining, “it’s like picking up soup with a fork,” he sighed. His overhead is low—he requires only a car, a scoop on a stick, and a child’s plastic toy shovel. The scoop can hold up to 50 pounds of crap. And dealing with the poop isn’t so bad. According to Russ, “I’ve been in bar bathrooms where the smell is worse.”
Dog waste–removal companies make a decent business. Post-winter seasonal clean-ups can cost customers up to $400 a yard. Larger operations command as much as $3 per minute. Most companies come by on a weekly basis to do the job many dog owners would prefer to avoid. Russ charges $12 for one dog per week ($18 for two), and he’s been doing this for 10 years. He swears by it. There’s no boss barking orders, no people to contend with, and no cramped office. He has never actually met a lot of his clients—often, they’ll leave the cash in their barbecues. “I have absolutely no stress,” he said.
Among Scooperman’s equally pun-tastic competitors (SuperScoopers, DoodyCalls), Poop Patrol is one of the more sophisticated operations, servicing up to 200 clients. They use a raking system, which helps to aerate the grass and minimizes bending over, and disposal methods that are totally biodegradable and particularly hygienic (“You can actually transfer parasites on the soles of your boots,” warned Poop Patrol owner Sue Millingen). But there’s plenty of business to go around: Russ has often referred clients to James Beagle at SuperScoopers, and vice versa.
Using a grid method, Russ tracked through the yard, even though the paydirt was mostly consolidated close to the house this time of year. “Dogs won’t go very far in the winter,” he said. “They’ll step out the back door and go right on the deck.” His workload is easier in the winter when the poop is most visible (and quasi-frozen). Spring is trickier, but it’s also the busiest time of year. And he won’t give a quote if the yard is covered in fresh snow. “You can never tell what’s underneath it.”
While some companies have fleets of vehicles emblazoned with company logos, Scooperman prefers to keep a low profile. Most of his customers would rather their neighbours not know that they outsource their scooping. Many are too lazy or grossed out to do it themselves, or they simply have lots of dogs. For some cleans, he’s filled up to 30 medium-sized garbage bags. But even in such extreme cases, Scoperman’s M.O. is just to make it seem like he was never there.
“They want me to double-bag it,” said Russ, twisting up a plastic bag full of poop after carefully scouring the yard. “They don’t want to see it.”