TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Diane Dudenhefer spends her days scouring yards for dog poop.
Equipped with rubber gloves, a scooping rake and a trash bag-lined bucket with a handle, Dudenhefer puts on a true crime podcast or some of her favorite tunes as she walks the customer’s property in a crisscross, checkerboard pattern — at least for the first few times.
Dogs are habitual creatures, so once she’s cleaned a yard for several weeks, she knows where to look.
When the scooping is done, Dudenhefer cleans all of her tools, and her shoes, with a virucide solution. She removes the bag of poop from the bucket and places it inside another trash bag, where it will be taken to a landfill for disposal.
Each yard is different, but the average job takes around 20 minutes from gathering equipment to cleanup.
Dudenhefer, 52, moved to Oxford in 2021 after having successfully launched Doody Happens, a pet waste removal service, in New Albany five years earlier.
These days, her work days consist of traveling to her customers’ yards on the hunt for what their furry family members leave behind, which she dutifully scoops into a plastic bucket as she goes.
Before starting her somewhat unique business, Dudenhefer spent five years working in a Memphis oncology clinic as a doctor’s assistant where she got to know lots of patients and their families.
It was tough, sometimes painful work, and after the loss of a dear friend to metastatic breast cancer, Dudenhefer decided she’d had enough.
Already an outdoorsy person, Dudenhefer decided to search for a job that would allow her to work in the open air. And as everybody knows, when nature calls … well, somebody has to answer. Why not her?
Dudenhefer and Teri Diaz, her close friend and Doody Happens business partner, based their business concept on a similar venture created by one of Diaz’s friends in Memphis.
Knowing there wasn’t a business providing that particular service in Northeast Mississippi, the friends launched Doody Happens in New Albany in 2016. They had seven customers during the first year.
“I wanted to get out of Memphis and go somewhere else,” Dudenhefer said. “New Albany was a place to start that venture and then work our way out.”
At the end of 2020, Dudenhefer moved to Oxford, bringing the business with her. She operates five days each week in Oxford and Tupelo, with at least 60% of her customers located in the All-America City.
Although Diaz continues to be a partner, scooping poop is a one-woman operation, and Dudenhefer has grown the business to 85 customers at residential homes and apartment complexes.
On the surface, Doody Happens may appear to be a bigger company than it actually is, but customers appreciate the personal touch.
“I build relationships with them because I’m texting them every week,” Dudenhefer said. “They get to know me, and I get to know them even though we might not ever meet in person.”
In 2018, Dudenhefer purchased a Chevy Colorado and had it wrapped with a custom design created by Diaz’s niece, illustrator Beth Spencer. The wrap features Diaz’s dog, a Corgi named Calvin. The original wrap was created by a Memphis company, but FastWrapz in Tupelo has updated and maintained it.
Dudenhefer often sees people snapping photos of the truck. Whether they’re having a laugh or hate the design, she welcomes people sharing photos with their friends or posting it online.
“That’s the best free publicity I can ever ask for,” she said.
If you ask Dudenhefer, there are plenty of good reasons to remove dog poop from your yard.
For one thing, it helps keep grass healthy. Dogs don’t eat grass like cows and horses, so their poop won’t function well as fertilizer. Because their diet consists of meat byproducts, dog poop can actually damage a lawn because of the acidity.
“Letting it sit there, getting it rained on, also breaks it down to a certain extent to where it’s diluting into the soil,” Dudenhefer said.
Simply providing a clean space for pets to go can be beneficial because of their habitual nature.
Oftentimes, dog owners let their dogs out into the yard and might not monitor their pet’s waste for potential health problems. Dudenhefer has that covered. If she notices anything abnormal, she reaches out to the customer to let them know. She even offers to send a photo so that they can seek care for their pet.
But the biggest selling point, by far, is the convenience. At the end of the day, people just want the poop removed from their yard.
“They call me because it’s a service, it’s convenient and they don’t have to do it,” Dudenhefer said, adding it’s similar to paying for lawn care, pool cleaning or having food delivered.
Prices for Doody Happens’ services vary depending on how often a customer wants their yard cleaned and the number of dogs whose business Dudenhefer will be cleaning up, but the starting rate for weekly cleanup is $14 for one dog. Every additional dog, up to four, adds $3.
Dudenhefer scoops in all seasons and in most weather conditions, save for heavy downpours and lightning.
“I’m always in communication with my customers,” she said. “They know when I’m not coming and they know when I will be coming if I can’t make it that day.”
One of the bright spots in her day is meeting new furry friends.
“Not every customer’s dogs are outside,” Dudenhefer said. “But when they are, I love it.”
She keeps Milk-Bone dog treats on hand, and although she doesn’t clean up after cats, she keeps treats for them in her vehicle for when the occasional house cat stops by to visit during a job.
Dudenhefer said she’ll continue to be Doody Happens’ sole scooper for as long as it’s feasible.
“I’m always open for customers and just seeing where that leads me,” she said.
Ideally, that would be to more dog poop.