In Dogged Pursuit of a State of Serenity

Debbie Crowe stays connected to the earth but lets her mind go free as she scoops a yard for DoodyCalls.
Debbie Crowe stays connected to the earth but lets her mind go free as she scoops a yard for DoodyCalls. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sometimes, while she is raking dog do off people's lawns, Debbie Crowe achieves a meditative state.

What she's going for, she says, is the Zen doctrine of "no-mind," which she describes as "kind of a whiteout." Her hands are busy but her mind is blank, like the mind of a Buddhist monk. Her shoes get dirty but she, Debbie Crowe, remains clean.

She walks methodically in rows, "like a police line when they look for evidence." Every few feet . . .

"Watch out," she says. You freeze and look down.

She positions her dustpan. Tines scrape across the grass.

Occasionally, Crowe will pass a spot and see nothing, but on a return sweep, something changes -- the light? the leaves? -- and lo! There is a mound. There's one yard where this happens a lot, and Crowe considers the place "mystical." For a somewhat convoluted reason, she likes to compare it to an Incan temple she visited once in Peru.

"Now this is the sneaky part," she says, as she stares at the ground in the mystical yard, which happens to be on Dolomite Hills Drive in Ashburn. "I always miss something right around here."

She does a U-turn and comes back.

"There! There you go! I was just here . See this?"

The poop-scooping profession has been around for at least 17 years. There's a trade organization ("Welcome to the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists!") The companies tend to have names like Poop Masters.

DoodyCalls has five franchises; the main one operates in Northern Virginia with five employees. (Voice-mail message: "When nature calls, we answer.") It is run by a former technology consultant and his wife, a former nurse, and they charge, on average, $15 per yard per week. The pay starts at $12 an hour. The employees include Lenny, who's originally from Siberia and has an old-country degree that's most certainly not in animal-waste removal, and Kaled, an animal lover who reads Cat Fancy and puts treats in his pockets when he goes to work. Kaled is on a first-name basis with Bam Bam, a nice pit bull in Reston, as well as Anna in Vienna and Morgan in Centreville.

"Kaled says he doesn't even think about it anymore," Crowe says, and by "it," she means what they spend their days picking up. "That's like no-mind."

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