John Kelly's Washington

Pooper scooper's example doesn't go to waste

Wayan Vota, with Taxi, took dog poop matters into his own hands, so to speak.
Wayan Vota, with Taxi, took dog poop matters into his own hands, so to speak. (Courtesy Of Wayan Vota)
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By John Kelly
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Picture the loveliest, most inviting thing you can imagine: the cool crispness of a bed made with freshly laundered sheets, the warm peach fuzz on a baby's head, the clink of ice cubes in a cocktail glass as you watch the sun set over the beach.

Sadly, this column will not be about any of those things. No. I'm afraid it's time to talk about dog poop again.

It is an unpleasant fact of life that dogs turn food into waste. Until someone genetically engineers a dog that can poop out diamonds or iPads or Berkshire Hathaway stock, dealing with doo will be one of the least enjoyable things about dog ownership.

Those of us who own dogs and clean up after them can't understand people who own dogs and don't. And if you don't own a dog and regularly find "presents" in your yard, you get even more irate.

Since I started on the dog poo beat last month, I have heard numerous stories about neighborhoods torn asunder by the issue. Some stories end along the lines of: "And then he threw the poop at me."

I'm sure this only serves to confuse the dogs.

Some Washingtonians take the matter into their own hands in a more productive way. Wayan Vota lives in Petworth. He enjoys walking his dog, Taxi (a "Muttus Americanus," Wayan said), in Grant Circle. He was alarmed by how much orphan poo they encountered.

"I started picking up other dogs' poo, too," Wayan said. "Finally, I got very annoyed, and on a very cold morning last year decided to pick up as much as I could and see how much it weighed."

He told his friends it weighed five to six pounds.

"No one believed me," Wayan said. And since it was only an estimate, he had no absolute proof. So a month or two later, he went on another poop roundup. This time he videotaped the weigh-in. The bulging Safeway bag weighed a staggering 13 pounds.

"I put the poo on my wife's scale," he said. "We had to buy a new scale, but it was worth sacrificing to prove, yes, there were 13 pounds of poo. No one disbelieves me now." (Wayan posted the video on YouTube. Search "picking up dog poo in Petworth.")

Horrific, no? And yet Wayan, who is 37 and works in international development, has seen a marked improvement in his neighborhood's fecal metrics: "I'd like to say there is almost no poo in Grant Circle."

Wayan thinks the main reason is that, by cleansing the area of poop, he has made it less acceptable for others to poop and run.

"If you see a lot of poop, you might think, 'I can leave mine.' If you don't see a lot, you think, 'I probably shouldn't do that.' "

Wayan thinks it also helped that the Advisory Neighborhood Commission got behind his anti-poop effort. There are now signs in Grant Circle urging owners to clean up after their dogs.

"I'm a firm believer that if you believe in your neighborhood, you can effect change," Wayan said. "Our neighborhood's called Petworth. I want it to be worthy of pets."

Fertile ground for business

Of course, this being America, there is a market solution to dog poop: companies that will clean up what you don't want to. Their names test the limits of poop-related punniness: Scooper Hero, Scoops-a-Lot, Poop Troopers, Doody Patrol, Poo Bare, Poop Goes the Weasel. (Okay, I made up that last one, but the rest are real.)

Claudine Rubin is a Rockville-based franchisee with DoodyCalls, one of the larger chains.

"It's a hot topic," she said of dog waste. Her company has contracts with owners of single-family homes and with garden apartments, condos and townhouse communities to keep common areas clean.

"A lot of people say, 'Can I have your card? I'd like to give it to my neighbor.' A lot of people refer us to people they think have a dog-waste issue."

That must be an interesting conversation: You're too lazy to clean up after your dog. Perhaps you'll be willing to pay someone 15 bucks a week to do it.

Claudine employs three full-time "pet waste technicians," paying them $10 to $12 an hour. I guess they can't say they don't know what the job entails.

"They know what they're signing up for," she said.

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