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Pet lovers cleaning up with new disposal service

| Thursday, Aug. 2, 2001

People laugh - perhaps nervously, maybe mockingly - when Kathy DiIorio says what she does for a living.

'At first, they are not sure whether I am joking or not,' said DiIorio, who with her husband, Chris, runs a company called Doodle Scoopers that removes dog waste from people's lawns.

The work is singularly unglamorous.

To many people, it is frivolous, even self-indulgent, to pay for such a service.

The DiIorio's, however, say paying to have dog droppings removed from a lawn is no less flighty than having a lawn cut or getting a house painted - services that people can take care of themselves but often prefer not to.

'Yes, people think it is unbelievable that this sort of company even exists,' said Kathy DiIorio. 'But after they think about it for a while, people realize this is serious.'

The cost of services like the DiIorio's is not extravagant - between $7 and $10 per visit.

Dog waste removal companies seem like an eccentricity, something more suitable to places like Beverly Hills or the Hamptons, not Pittsburgh. And, true to reputation, there are far more such companies in California, where they began, than in Pittsburgh, which has only three.

To the DiIorios, whose company is the area's largest, servicing 126 customers each week, the paltry number of these companies in the Pittsburgh region represents one thing: opportunity.

There is plenty of potential for growth. Each year, some 40 million dogs in the United States consume 6 billion pounds of dog food.

The industry even has an Internet site, which is managed by Matthew Osborn of Columbus, Ohio, who identified 340 dog-waste removal companies in the world. Twelve years ago, there were four. Nearly all are in the United States and Canada, but the site also lists such companies in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

The DiIorios got the idea of starting a dog waste removal company while watching Animal Planet, a cable television channel.

'We saw a story about a woman doing this in California,' said Kathy DiIorio, 'Of course, her husband thought that she was nuts.'

The DiIorio's hope their company will set them up for the rest of their working lives. 'It would be nice to hire other people - our main goal is to have it as our livelihood,' DiIorio said.

Two years ago, she quit her job at the Kauffman's store in downtown Pittsburgh. Chris still manages the Hidden Valley ski resort in Somerset County.

People in the dog waste removal business are often asked how they can stand such work.

'It is disgusting, but I got over it,' said Carol Crossey, the former owner of the Doggie Doo Clean-up Crew of Midway, Washington County.

What Crossey, and anyone else in the business, all have in common is a love for animals.

'You just cannot do this if you do not like animals or are indifferent to them,' Crossey said.

Lou Robertson, a onetime steelworker who has just bought Crossey's company, says he feels much the same way about animals.

'I love animals and always have,' said Robertson, who runs the business out of his home in North Fayette.

Robertson is combining the waste removal company with his already flourishing pet sitting business. He currently services about 20 customers.

'People do not like to leave their dogs in kennels, and pet sitting costs about the same or less,' he said.

To some people, picking up dog waste would be an unbearable ordeal. Kathy DiIorio, though, does not see it that way. In fact, she looks forward to making her rounds each day.

'I know all of the dogs, and they know me,' she said. 'It is good to see them each week.'

What is most draining about the job, Kathy DiIorio said, is not the work itself but driving around greater Pittsburgh. She says she can clean any yard in about five or 10 minutes.

But, she said, 'Driving and trying to avoid rush hour are the most draining parts of this work.'

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