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He's 'No. 1 in the No. 2 business'

Professional dog-waste removal was a field ready to be scooped up by this Walla Walla, Wash., entrepreneur

for The Associated Press

Professional pooper-scooper Rick Price hunts through the blades of grass like a dentist carefully scouring for a cavity.

In his right hand, he holds a round-point shovel, in his left, an industrial-sized dustpan. Using a grid-search method he learned in the Air Force, he walks row by row in a rectangular pattern, maneuvering around a clothesline behind the single-story house on Portland Avenue.

Resident Labradors Lilly and Jasmine are inside. But their canine calling cards, as Price refers to them, have been left in their playground out back. In this line of work, Price relishes big dogs.

Little dogs, little piles, he says. Harder to see.

The Walla Walla man has heard just about every one-liner you could imagine since starting his dog waste removal business Dookie Dooty last November: Hey Rick, is business picking up? Hope your day's not too crappy.

— He's even used a few industry cliches to help market himself: No. — in the No. 2 business. The dog owner's best friend.

But when it comes to building a name as top dog in the industry, he is all business.

During a lunch break two weeks ago, Price, 40, stopped himself midway through the door to Wendy's. Wearing his business logo on his shirt, he feared customers who saw it would lose their appetites at the thought of his work. Concerned that could hurt potential business, he got in his silver pickup and ordered lunch at the drive-thru.

Most days, the repugnance factor works in his favor. In fact, he hoped to capitalize on that tidbit as he researched at-home business ventures last fall.

A police officer at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Price considered starting his own business on the side, one that would put a little extra money in his pocket and give a little relief from the stress of his full-time job.

He struck gold when he stumbled across the dog waste-removal industry. Not only had he received plenty of practice as a kid in Pendleton, picking up after the family's Boston terriers, but he could capitalize on something that no one else really wants to do.

Families have changed. You've got two parents working, demands are increasing, kids have more activities, he said. Spare time is a premium, and when you do get it, you don't want to be doing this.

Apart from the time excuse, the business can help provide a service for those who can't bend over well to clean up their yards and for those who simply don't want to deal with it.

Price learned the sanitary aspects of the job through a book he ordered online by a man who reportedly turned his Pet Butler business into a six-figure operation.

The Professional Pooper-Scooper: How to Start Your Own Low-Cost, High-Profit Dog Waste Removal Service by Matthew Osborn details everything from licensing requirements and tools of the trade to handling weather conditions and temperamental pooches. It also gives examples of other businesses that have found success in the industry ' Poop VanScoop out of Denver, Yucko's in St. Louis, Have Doggie, We'll Doo in Chicago.

They've all served as inspiration to Price, who's picked up about a half-dozen regular clients for fees of &

36;8 a week for one dog one day a week and &

36;3 per additional dog, on average. Prices go up with the numbers of dogs and frequency of the service, so it's not clear how many clients it would take for Dookie Dooty to become a full-time operation.

He is part of a growing contingency of those in the dog waste removal business. The Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists reports there are more than 300 professional waste removal services in the United States and Canada.

As part of his regular tools, Price carries with him a supply of bags ' he double bags everything ' disinfectant for his shovel and shoes and a hefty supply of dog treats for canines whose owners have pre-approved the snacks.

The tools of bribery, he calls them.

His yard findings are dumped off at the city landfill.

In the yard on Portland Avenue, he is already starting to figure out Lilly and Jasmine's favorite potty places. Most dogs, he's learning, have regular spots, though you can never be sure there won't be other piles throughout the yard.

I enjoy this, Price says, scanning the grass. I know it sounds a little weird. Maybe even sick.

He hopes his enthusiasm and thoroughness will attract enough clients to turn his business into a full-time job. Along the path, which he scours in a vertical row before double-backing horizontally across the yard, he finds what he's looking for.

There's one, he says.

He places his shovel at the edge of the pile, flicking it into the pan.

I don't mind it, he says. Maybe if I have a dog one day that looks at me like I'm a porkchop ' then I might not want to do it anymore.