No one knows who the unlucky person was that first stepped on a dog turd. After all, it probably happened 10,000 years or more ago, when wolves first began to appear at the margins of human settlement. But it’s not hard to imagine the expression on that person’s face. Even today, very few regularly encountered substances have the power to offend, or, for that matter, get stuck deep in the treads of our shoes, as does dog manure.
Since last spring, Susan Fischer has waged a one-woman battle to restore sanitation and a fresh smell to backyards from Hendersonville to Weaverville. Fischer is the owner and sole employee off Poo Patrol, a paid service that collects and properly disposes of dog droppings wherever they happen to lie. In a little less than a year of operation, Poo Patrol has attracted more than 30 individual clients.
Prior to moving to the Asheville area three years ago with her teenage daughter, Alexandra, Fischer worked as a 911 dispatcher in Connecticut for nearly 20 years. Xpress caught up with her on a blustery day last week as she finished a sweep of a client’s yard in the Biltmore Lake community in Enka.
Mountain Xpress: What got you started, uh, cleaning up poo?
Susan Fischer:After moving here I had to start a new type of job at the bottom of the totem pole. The wage difference between here and Connecticut was shocking, so I had to work two jobs. And my daughter, who has a bunch of medical problems, needs to get to doctor’s appointments, and I couldn’t get time off to take her. And I said to myself, “You know what? I want to do something outdoors. And I want to be available to do things for my daughter.”
Did you have any experience running your own business?
I went to Mountain BizWorks and took a small-business course before starting it up. It’s been a bunch of footwork, for sure. But here we are.
Is there much of a demand for your services?
God, there are just so many dogs around here. And the way people’s lifestyles are now, the last thing they want to do is go out at the end of the day and clean up poo.
Some people would have a hard time doing this work. How do you manage?
I love the animals—absolutely love the animals. It doesn’t bother me. Some people can’t stomach it, can’t handle what I call the “yuck factor.” But I don’t have a problem with it. I never have to touch it. Now, in summer the smell can get kind of bad. But today it’s great: It’s frozen and I have nothing to worry about.
You must have a good sense of humor to be in this business.
Oh yeah. Ask me what kind of day I’m having.
What kind of day are you having?
I’m having a crappy day.
And that’s exactly how you want it?
That’s right. You know, pardon the pun—it’s a shitty job but someone’s got to do it. But it’s also very necessary. Dog feces carry so many parasites. They are hazardous to other dogs, as well as small children. Also, for a lot of elderly people, their dog is the only companion they have left. When they get to the age when they can no longer bend over and clean up after their dogs, they’re having to put them up for adoption. My heart can’t take that. That’s why I offer senior discounts.
Does your business depend on a certain level of affluence on the part of your clients?
I would say my clientele is half higher incomes and half middle of the road incomes. I have a few people who aren’t even middle of the road. But I’m human and I like to work with them too, because I know how important this service is.
So what’s your procedure?
I come into a yard and do a sweep of it using a zig-zag pattern. I have a large litter pan and either a rake or a shovel with me. I line the pan with an industrial-strength garbage bag and then tie it off and double bag it once it’s full. Some clients let me put the waste in their garbage cans; in other cases I take it to the dump.
How long does a job take?
About 20 minutes for most of my yards. Apartment complexes take me about three hours.
And what are you thinking about while you work?
I’m thinking about my daughter. I’m thinking about her future. Because things are so tight right now, and we’ve been through the ringer this past year. But yeah, I’m thinking about making a better life for us, and the satisfaction of knowing that I was able to make it happen.
Are you making a living at it?
Almost. It’s very hard, like any other new business. But I have this gut feeling that it will take off.
Pardon the expression.
Sorry. You walked right into that one. And do you have a dog yourself?
Yes. Her name is Jada. She’s my sweetie; best dog I’ve ever had. When it’s cool outside she comes with me every day. I bought her off of a homeless guy who was looking for a little money to get a bottle. Being able to rescue a dog is a wonderful thing.
OK, we need some lurid details here. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in a dog turd?
Oh, here we go. I keep on telling people that I’m going to write a coffee-table book on the subject of what you find in dog shit. I’ve seen a full sock in there, and sandwich bags, and napkins, paper towels. And crayons—crayons make wonderful colors. I have one client whose dog makes just a flurry of colors every time he goes. It’s very pretty. My favorite, though, was the green plastic army guy who was embedded in there kind of like this [pantomimes a desperate struggle].
What’s the worst part of your job?
The snakes. That’s my one fear. I was out on the job with Alexandra one day and saw a snake and was just crazy with fear. And she was like, “C’mon, Mom.” Turns out it was just a harmless little garter snake.
Do you have a favorite among your clients’ dogs?
Of course not. [Winks.] I love them all.
Fischer’s company, Poo Patrol, has a Web site (www.pooscoopin.com); she can also be reached at 551-9027.