- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Jacob D'Aniello's weekend job stinks.

He and his fiance, Susan Otis, started Doody Calls in the summer of 2000 to answer nature's call and remove pet waste for homeowners with no time or interest in such dutiful tasks.

"I think I fried my olfactory sense," Mr. D'Aniello said.

It may be for the best, because business is picking up.

The Centreville company, whose Web site is www.DoodyCalls.com, grew slowly at first. They had just one customer until February 2001. Now they have 100 clients and hope to add 100 more by August and establish themselves as the area's No. 1 company in the business of number two.

Mr. D'Aniello arms himself with a pair of old boots, a small shovel, rake and a pocketful of garbage bags. The most important tools of the trade may be a container of bleach and a long-handled dustpan, like the one used to clean movie theaters and shopping-mall floors.

The dustpan prevents Mr. D'Aniello and Miss Otis, both 26, from coming too close to the pet waste.

They use the bleach to clean their shovel, rake and boots when they are finished scouring a property to prevent spreading germs or viruses to other yards.

The couple make their rounds every Saturday and Sunday in Northern Virginia and the District. By the end of the weekend, they're pooped. Homeowners may or may not be home when they arrive. It doesn't matter.

Mr. D'Aniello strolls up to a customer's home, a shovel in one hand and dustpan in the other. He lines the receptacle of his dustpan with a small trash bag. The piles Mr. D'Aniello came to retrieve are often easy to see. He quickly covers the front and back yards by walking left to right and front to back, crisscrossing the property.

He likes animals, and Miss Otis has a wire-haired terrier. They never feel threatened, though Mr. D'Aniello has been bitten once. A boxer shot out a doggie door and plunged its teeth into his leg.

"I was bruised pretty bad, but fortunately I wasn't bleeding," he said.

It takes about seven minutes to finish one yard, and the entrepreneurs gather 500 pounds of dog waste each weekend.

With his dustpan filled, Mr. D'Aniello empties the inventory into another trash bag, then slips that bag into a third bag. He sets it near the garage. His clients are responsible for tossing the bag in their own trash containers. Mr. D'Aniello and Miss Otis plan to buy a van for the business. When they do, they will begin taking the dog waste to a Fairfax County incinerator. Their freshly laminated permit sits in the glove compartment of Mr. D'Aniello's Subaru.

Their clients typically live in single-family homes, but the couple also has a growing business cleaning dog waste from apartment complexes and town-house developments. The standard rate for a single-family home is $12 for a weekly cleaning. Rates for town homes are $10 a week. Costs go up when homeowners have more than one dog.

The number of pet-waste removal services nationally is growing, said Debbie Levy, co-founder of the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists and the owner of her own service, Yucko's, in St. Louis.

That's due in part to the modest investment it requires to start a business and to growing demand.

"I had a call from a woman yesterday whose husband just wasn't going to [scoop dog waste] anymore. It's one of those things, you know. People don't always have the time for it," Miss Levy said. "It is a luxury, but it's also a service that is important in terms of health and safety."

Fewer than 60 U.S. companies are listed on industry Web site www.pooperscooper.com. The association also lists removal services on its site at www.apaws.org.

Doody Calls has a range of customers: People who don't have time to pick up after their pets, people who are disgusted by dog waste, elderly people who may be unable to do the cleaning, and property managers who have Doody Calls clean the small parks and common areas within a development.

"This is a matter of convenience. It's just one thing to make life a little easier," Mr. D'Aniello said.

Make no mistake: Mr. D'Aniello is no altruistic do-gooder trying to simplify people's lives. He reached this point by carefully plotting his moves and working hard.

He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1999 with an economics degree, and designs software at a local technology firm. But when technology and telecommunications companies began imploding in the summer of 2000 and laying off workers, Mr. D'Aniello wanted a backup plan.

So he and Miss Otis an emergency room nurse at Reston Hospital, 1998 University of Virginia graduate and 2002 graduate of Johns Hopkins University began Doody Calls. It helps Mr. D'Aniello achieve separate goals: To start his own business and spend time outside. He's an outdoorsman who asked Miss Otis to marry him during a hiking trip.

"In many ways, I'd rather be a big fish in my own little pond than a little fish in someone else's big pond," said Mr. D'Aniello, sitting behind the wheel of his car after cleaning a lawn.

He admits there may be a stigma attached to what he does, and he has heard all the jokes he's an "entre-manure" who "picks up where your dog left off." It has helped bolster his repository of scatological jokes.

But the work doesn't bother him. In fact, business is booming. The past four months have been the company's fastest period of growth, and in December, Doody Calls hired its first employee because there are more lawns that its ambitious co-founders can handle. They plan to market the service in Maryland.

"We feel now that we're on the cusp. We're on the verge of having a successful business," he said.

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