Pet waste business picks up in spring
Dave Hunt says he is “number one in the number two business.”
Hunt is the master of a job so dirty, few people actually believe him when he announces what he does for a living.
“We pick up dog poop for people,” he tells them.
“What do you really do?” they respond.
“I pick up dog poop for people,” he insists. “No, really. That’s what we do.”
Hunt is the local franchise owner of the aptly named DoodyCalls, a Virginia-based, national pet service company that removes residential animal waste.
DoodyCalls mostly takes care of dog, cat and occasionally bird fecal waste. The elevator pitch, as Hunt says, is “When nature calls, we answer.”
When asked if the smells of his industry ever bother him, Hunt laughed and replied, “Not at all. Smells like money to me.”
“We get rid of the worst part of your pet. Everyone remembers how cuddly a dog and cat are, but after that first time … eww,” he said. “I have a friend who can’t pick up the waste because it makes her gag. Plus we have (clients) where both spouses work, so they don’t have time. They just want to get home and enjoy the best part of their pet.”
Hunt bought into the DoodyCalls franchise in 2009. He used to own a Two Men and a Truck franchise, but he sold it in June 2015. He now owns three DoodyCalls locations: one in Byron Center, one in Lansing, which he opened last year, and one in Detroit, where he claims former Tigers pitcher Dan Petry is a client.
DoodyCalls isn’t the only company doing this job in West Michigan. There’s also Mid Michigan POOP 911 in Grand Rapids,The Kalamazoo Poo Crew in Kalamazoo, and K-9 Yard Maintenance in Jenison.
Spring is an especially busy time of year for Julie Steenwyk, owner of K-9 Yard Maintenance. Steenwyk, who’s had the business for about eight years, provides cleanup services for homes and apartment complexes in Jenison, Grand Rapids, Rockford, Ada, Grandville and Wyoming.
“We have about a little more than 40 we do weekly service for. In the spring, we do a lot of one-time clean ups — usually around 80 spring cleanups,” Steenwyk said.
DoodyCalls has about 60 customers in the Grand Rapids area, Hunt said — a number that grows in the springtime, his busy season. Michigan’s winter can make it tricky for people to clean up after their pets, he said.
“We have four feet of snow on the ground and people forget their pets go to the bathroom. People tend to forget or not care about that waste in the winter, and then when the snow melts, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ I have two dogs myself, and if you don’t keep up, it can be disgusting and intimidating,” he said.
“We’re growing. We’re $9,000 ahead of last year for Grand Rapids. I think we’re finally an established name.”
Hunt currently has one full-time employee who works with him in the area. The employee is a retired postal service worker who has plenty of experience working with “dogs and weather.”
“Before he was dropping off, and now he’s picking up,” Hunt chuckled.
It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it — especially for health and sanitary reasons, something both Hunt and Steenwyk mentioned.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies dog waste as “nonpoint source pollution,” which it says is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters. The pet waste may carry parasites and bacteria that can be transmitted directly to humans.
According to DoodyCalls, about 78.2 million dogs live in the U.S. Those dogs produce about 30,000 tons of waste every day, creating approximately 10 million tons of waste every year. That’s the equivalent of nearly 267,500 tractor-trailers loaded with dog poop.
“The government considers dog waste an environmental hazard. Most customers will have us leave it in their garbage. We’ll bag it; other times, for additional fees, we’ll take it and put it in the landfill,” Hunt said.
Sometimes, unusual things turn up. For example, in 2010, a DoodyCalls employee found $58 in bills in a “pile,” according to a story Hunt shared.
As for Hunt, his strangest find was from a dog he believes must’ve eaten some blue sidewalk chalk. It’s a colorful story the way he tells it. No pun intended.
It might not be a job for everyone, but to Hunt, it’s a good way to make a living.
“My friends, when I bought into it, were like, ‘What are you doing?’ And now they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a good idea,’” he said.