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The Big Scoop

[whitespace] Laura Morales

Mom and former teacher finds lucrative business opportunity in unlikely place

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

The big, blond dog is blocking the gateway to the sloping Santa Cruz Mountains back yard, but Laura Morales is not intimidated. She bribes it with a biscuit, and the dog wags its tail and backs away from us. Though the dog is still not so sure about me, she allows us entrance to the property. "This is Candy," Morales tells me. "She's OK with strangers or I wouldn't have brought you back here. Pretty, isn't she? Candy's a golden retriever mixed with wolf. She's a doll."

Well, no. Wolves are not dolls. Wolves eat dolls, I believe, when they can't get tastier meals like reporters. But Morales is already crossing the lawn as if she had on 50-league boots, swinging an industrial-strength shovel in one hand and a paper-in-plastic supermarket bag in the other, and Candy is bounding behind her. So I follow.

Suddenly Morales spots what she's looking for. Not breaking stride, she dips one knee, drops her shovel to the grass and with one quick, fluid stroke flicks a big pile of dog poop into a bag without leaving a trace behind. Already she is back up to speed, scanning the yard ahead of her for more doo-doo like a Java programmer searching the source code for bugs. Within moments she has circled the entire yard and is heading for the garbage can to deposit her findings, and the yard is safe for barefoot people again. I am impressed. Up until now, this whole profession seemed something of a bathroom joke, but clearly it isn't. This is what Laura Morales does for a living.

"Oh, sure, I get it all the time," says the founder, owner and chief pooper scooper of the All Dog Yard Cleanup company of San Jose. "Things like: 'How's business?' 'It's the shits.' I hear everything. I'm used to it."

I have come with a notebook full of one-liners myself, thoughtfully provided by Metro co-workers. "Not too cool to get the stool." "Discounts for the Quetzalcoatl." And, as a theme song for radio ads, "I'm a Doggie Doodoo Dandy." I decide against sharing.

The athletic-looking mother of two started her dog cleanup business five years ago after seeing an article about a similar operation in Oregon. "I thought about it a long time," she says, finally deciding to give up her job as an elementary school P.E. teacher in the Milpitas district. "I like kids, but I thought that the dogs might be easier than dealing with the kids," she says. "Of course, when I told the teachers what I was going to do, all of them said, 'My God, you're insane!' " Well, not so insane. One of only two such services in the valley, All Dog Yard Cleanup now serves up to 120 yards per week in a great arc stretching from Fremont through San Jose and most of its suburbs and up into Palo Alto. With rates between $25 and $75 per month, it's a pretty good income.

Now that she's gotten used to the main object of her trade, that is.

"I'm desensitized to it," she says. "Kind of like a doctor and blood; I'm that way with dog poop now. Of course, it took me about six months or so before it stopped grossing me out."

While she merely tolerates the feces, Morales clearly loves the dogs. She knows some 400 of them by name and freely enters yards brimming with Rottweilers and Dalmatians that scare contract gardeners and pool cleaners to death. "It's a knack," she says about how she gets along so easily with the dogs. In five years, she has had only one bad experience. "I cleaned a yard with a chow for two years and never had a problem. Every time, it was just me and the chow in the yard together. And then one day the owner was home, and she came out on the porch to give me a check, and the dog just went for me. I guess he thought he was protecting her." Morales says the chow did not bite her, but the impact was hard enough to hurt her knee. She says she dropped the house from her service. "Sure, it shook me up," she says. "Once a dog gets it in its mind to do it one time, sooner or later it's going to do it again."

The business, she admits, can still get a little embarrassing, "like when I go to meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and have to tell people what I do. You can see the smiles breaking out all over." And she will not paint the name of her business on her truck: "you know, because of my daughters." She does not have to explain.

But scooping up dog poop has become such a lucrative field that she is now offering franchises in different sections of the valley, and things have even begun to expand beyond dogs.

"I've got 15 cats on my route," she says. "Two rabbits. I change the paper in one parrot cage. And I've got three of those pot-bellied pigs left over from the time when it used to be the fad for people to collect them as pets." She confesses that the pigs are weird. "You can't get friendly with them, like you can with dogs."

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From the April 2-8, 1998 issue of Metro.

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