In his line of work, Matt Kallok has heard them all.
"I hear it dozens of times a day," he said. "They'll say, 'Business is really picking up.' Or, 'It's a crappy job.' And some dirtier ones, too."
What do you expect when the name of your company is DoodyCalls?
For the past four years, DoodyCalls has been the go-to company to clean up after the animals (and some humans, too) at the Minnesota State Fair. The contract is in a class by itself. Pigs, cows, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and rabbits generated more than 3,000 tons of manure last year, according to the fair.
The potty humor typically comes as Kallok and crew scurry behind the horses during the daily parades. DoodyCalls workers also scoop up manure from all of the barns, prevent livestock from littering the sidewalks, and keep the restrooms around the coliseum clean and stocked with toilet paper, soap and hand towels. "Everything poops. Nobody likes to deal with it," Kallok said. "That's the fact of the matter."
DoodyCalls workers haul the waste to one of five manure pits on the fairgrounds, and another company empties out the pits. The manure ultimately finds its way back to farmers, who spread it on their fields as fertilizer.
Outside of the hectic 12 days of the State Fair, the work at DoodyCalls is more routine. Kallok has three full-time employees and a couple of contractors who take on the unpleasant task of picking up after dogs and exchanging cat litter boxes for homeowners, apartment dwellers and pet-friendly businesses.
He gets the occasional call to pick up after deer, ducks and geese, and recently took a job near Cedar Lake in Minneapolis where a raccoon was pooping in a homeowner's bushes.
The fair hired Doody- Calls in 2009 to help supplement the work of the fair's sanitation department. The contract is worth $25,000 to $30,000, according to fair officials.
"It takes a lot off of my plate, that I don't have to line up people," said Ryan Donnelly, the State Fair's coliseum and livestock events manager. "It's nice to hire a company that is comfortable handling manure and waste. It's not something you get too many people to volunteer for.
"It helps the exhibitors, too, to know that they are people who have been around animals and know what's going on."
A growing niche
DoodyCalls is a franchise operation with headquarters in Charlottesville, Va. It is one of a growing number of pet pickup services in Minnesota and nationwide, as part of the booming $52 billion pet care industry. The company names in this niche tend to be more frisky than frank: Dr. Poolittle, Turd Nerds, the Doo Crew, Pooparazzi, Treasure Hunters and Doo Process.
Within the broader pet care industry, grooming and boarding has about a $4.6 billion slice of the pie, with waste removal and "other services'' accounting for about 14 percent, or $644 million. Over the past five years, sales in the grooming and boarding industry have grown by an average annual rate of 4 percent, outpacing the economy as a whole, according to IBISWorld.
The growth comes as more people own pets and, more to the point, are prone to pamper them. Last year, 62 percent of U.S. households had pets, compared to 56 percent in 1988, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Those with the stomach for scooping poop can roll in some filthy lucre.
DoodyCalls launched in 1999 and now has 45 franchise locations in 23 states. The company last year reported $4.5 million in sales, a 55 percent increase over 2009, according to the company.
Kallok, 34, a single father from St. Paul, was the sales director at the Twin Cities DoodyCalls before buying the franchise last year. He studied criminal justice at Norwich University, a military college in Northfield, Vt., and was a bar manager at the Wild Onion in St. Paul before throwing himself into the poop business. He would never call it a crappy job.
"Every animal has a distinct smell," said Kallok, who has a beagle. "Some are ammonia, some are sweeter, some hit you in a different part of your nose."
Kallok hired 35 workers to cover nearly round-the-clock shifts at the State Fair, with pay starting at $9 an hour. The crew wears bright white T-shirts with the company logo and tagline: "When nature calls, we answer!"
Fairgoers might have noticed workers like Lindsey Krieger running about with a forked-scooper after a cattle judging contest. Less charming was the call Kallok took from the Swine Barn earlier this week, telling him the wash racks were clogged with manure. It was the fourth time in a few days.
"It means someone has to stick their arm down it and unclog it," Kallok said.
"Ooooof!" came the reaction from a worker named Josh, who headed off without a hint of dread, "Might as well get my arm dirty."
The job turned out to be too big, and Kallok called the on-site plumber.
By midday, most of the crew was on break, enjoying a brief lull. An hour after mealtime, Kallok explained, there's a rush. "You know you'll need soap and paper towels in the restrooms," he said. "That's us. We do that unglamorous stuff people don't think about."
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335