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Man hopes to become No. 1 in No. 2 business

Ex-techie entrepreneur sees opportunity in those backyard piles
by: L.E. BASKOW, Alan Pietrovito of Doody Calls picks up pet waste from a Northeast Portland yard under the watchful eye of Owen. So far, the nine-month-old business has gathered 50 customers.

The guy who got his MBA in London, the guy who a decade ago was a computer network engineer for the Pentagon, now carefully crisscrosses backyards throughout Portland. He carries an extended garden shovel in one hand, a modified dustpan in the other.

Alan Pietrovito's profession these days: He picks up dog poop.

And at first, you can't decide which is more surprising: that someone who once was a computer whiz with the Pentagon is now picking up dog doo for a living.

Or that anyone would pay anyone to do this.

On the first question, Pietrovito is more than fine with it. Really, he is.

He's the owner of his own company, he says. He's the guy who will determine his own future.

'At one point in my life, I needed external reinforcement probably more than I do now, and recognition of who I am,' the 51-year-old Pietrovito says. 'I guess I'm just comfortable with myself.'

And on the second question - on whether the existence of a business like Pietrovito's says something about our overly scheduled, pay-someone-else-to-do-it society - well, neither Pietrovito nor his clients seem too perplexed about that.

'If you take that to the extreme … why are fast-food restaurants around?' Pietrovito asks. 'It's convenience. People are very busy. They value their time. They value their time with their families. And they're making a choice.'

Pietrovito and his wife started the Portland franchise for Doody Calls nine months ago. So far, they have about 50 customers - with hopes that numbers will go far higher.

While Pietrovito's business might seem quintessentially Portland - with the city's high dog-per-person ratio - Doody Calls and businesses like it are hardly unique to Portland. The Doody Calls business actually was started in northern Virginia in 2000, and has two other franchisees on the East Coast.

There is even an Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists (APAWS) - which continues to remind folks on its Web site that National Pooper Scooper Week is April 24 through April 30.

Meanwhile, Pietrovito's route from the Pentagon to the backyards of Portland is not really as strange as it might seem.

In research, Portland wins

He and his wife, Kathleen Capps, a retired Naval military officer, had lived in the northern Virginia suburbs for years. After her retirement, they began thinking about where they might want to live. They made visits to cities throughout the nation, and after visiting Portland, quickly decided they wanted to live here.

Capps came first in 1998, and quickly found a job. But after Pietrovito joined her, the high-technology recession hit, and 'I couldn't get a job to save my life,' Pietrovito says.

He eventually found temporary jobs, including one that turned into another full-time job in high-tech. But then, after his company merged with another, he and a large group of employees were laid off.

Shortly afterward, however, Pietrovito and Capps were awarded the East Portland and Vancouver, Wash., franchise for 1-800-GOT-JUNK, which picks up and hauls away household recyclables and trash. Through it, they heard about Doody Calls.

'The more we looked at it, the more intrigued we were,' Pietrovito says.

Capps now runs the 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchise, while Pietrovito runs the Doody Calls franchise.

Pietrovito had a Doody Calls employee until this summer, which is the slow time of year. Right now, he does all the work himself.

Transit time adds up

He charges $13.50 per week for one dog, in an average-size backyard. He tries to finish the moderate-size jobs in about 15 minutes. But he spends a lot of time driving from one site to the next. '(An extra) five minutes on a job can be the difference between making a profit and not making a profit,' he says.

'He's wonderful,' says one longtime client, real estate agent Chris Balmes.

When she added a second golden retriever to the household, she decided it would be worth it to hire Doody Calls.

'When you're cleaning up after two and trying to work and maintain a home and have a social life … it's worth every penny,' she says.

Pietrovito says he sometimes notices that people don't treat a 'pet waste' professional the same as a computer professional.

'It's interesting the difference in how people treat you,' he says.

But that's OK, Pietrovito says.

'If you're going to get into it, you can't do it for the prestige,' he says, smiling under his green ball cap emblazoned with the Doody Calls slogan: 'When nature calls, we answer.'

In fact, Pietrovito was offered a job recently - working in the computer industry again. He turned it down.

'It gives me great pleasure to know I'm building something bigger than myself,' he says of his business. 'You have to take the long view.'

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