Brad Erickson watches his step as he goes about his business — picking up after dogs that have done their business.
“Keep your head down and your eyes on the ground” is the mantra for the owner of Happy Dog Yards of Westby. “My wife tells me not to bring my work home.”
Erickson expects a rush of doody calls as warmer temperatures melt the snow cover.
“One of the funny things is, all winter, people look out and say, ‘That’s not too bad.' Then the snow settles, and they say, ‘Where’d it all come from?’” the 58-year-old Erickson said with the easy laugh that punctuates many of his sentences.
“I’ve picked up about a dozen new customers in the past few days,” Erickson said Tuesday as he wielded his scoop and rake in the yard of an Onalaska customer who is one of his 55 regulars.
“This is like mining for gold,” he said, plopping the droppings of Samantha and Simon into his 10-quart bucket.
His rates start at $10 a week to pick up after one dog, $12 for two, and up, with a spring cleaning special available.
Phones also are ringing at Doggie Business in Holmen, which Karla and Peter Toppen started as a waste removal service in 2007.
“The spring generates quite a few calls,” Karla said, estimating client numbers could hit 200 for spring cleaning specials before tapering off to the usual 75.
Rates there are $10.50 a week for one dog, $12.50 for two, etc.
“This winter has been difficult with snow, ice and cold,” Karla said. “I would imagine spring will be sloppy.”
Waste removal, at the hands of three employees tagged as “scooper troopers,” accounts for about 30 percent of the business at Doggie Business, she said. It also offers dog day care, boarding, walking and potty breaks, as well as being a dealer for Invisible Fence Brand, she said.
Erickson has been a one-man show since he started his business in 2006, shortly before he was laid off from The Trane Co. after 25 years.
“Fortunately, I had started the business before that. That’s called planning ahead,” he said.
After his research showed that poop scooping is big business on the East and West coasts, he told his wife, Kris, that he was starting his own venture.
“She said, ‘Yeah, right,’” he recalled, saying he often reminds her of her skepticism, and she acknowledges her amazement it's been a fruitful endeavor for eight years.
Likewise, the neighbor who laughed at him for even thinking that people would pay him for the task now has his tail between his legs.
“It’s a good job, and a good service for people — especially the handicapped and the elderly,” Erickson said. “A lot of elderly people want to have pets without having to clean the yard.
“I’ve got customers in wheelchairs, professional people, people who don’t have time to do it and people who just don’t want to do it,” said Erickson, who also picks up after his miniature schnauzer, Zeus, and yorkishon, Fenix, at home.
Despite the brutal cold this winter, the job has been a tad easier because the snow has made the dogs’ handiwork easier to spot, he said. But wintry mixes that freeze into uneven ice complicate the task.
“That’s the worst,” he said. “But I have a chipper, and I chip it out.”
During the summer, Erickson uses a grid system to make sure he doesn’t miss a pooch’s parcel.
Erickson’s car is his office, with his trunk and back seat filled with the tools of his trade: a couple of chippers, rakes, poop scoopers, shovels for heavier loads in the spring, paper towels, cleaning materials and plastic bags.
He uses the plastic sacks to double-bag his findings for the customers to dispose of, while the Toppens’ business takes its collections and composts them.
One of Erickson’s oddest calls came from someone who asked whether he cleans houses. When he explained that he cleans dog waste from yards, the caller pressed, “Do you clean it out of houses, too?”
He accepted the job and found quite a bit of doo-doo to do.
Erickson leaves a happy trail of customers throughout the Coulee Region, including Lisa Desmond of La Crosse, who has used his service for about five years.
“I absolutely love it,” Desmond said of the job Erickson does in cleaning up after her 3-year-old basset hound, Millie.
“He does a great job, and he’s a great guy,” Desmond said. “If he sees my garbage can still is by the curb, he brings it in. It’s a very useful service — worth every cent.”