Turning messes into opportunities

Fired from troubled WorldCom, local woman goes into business scooping dog poop

Janie Foydl went from Corporate America to a niche small-business start-up.

Janie Foydl went from Corporate America to a niche small-business start-up.

Photo by Larry Dalton

Someone once said, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So what do you do when corporate-style capitalism shits on you? For Janie Foydl, the answer is: scoop it up, and turn that stinking pile of misfortune into a new career.

Foydl worked for troubled corporate giant WorldCom, and was one of 200 local employees who were fired when the company shuttered its Rancho Cordova call center. The employees received their walking papers in May, and many are still scrambling to find new jobs. But not Foydl.

Cool and confident, Foydl steps out of a white Dodge Caravan, smiling despite the heat wave rolling through Sacramento. On the windows of the Caravan is a logo of a grinning dog, thumb in the air, and the words, “Doodie Duty, a dog poop scoopin service.” Below it lists a phone number. People often point at the van as she’s driving, she says, and smiles go all the way around.

Foydl provides what she sees as a necessary service, and to her, it’s a ticket out of the rat race. A seven-year employee of WorldCom, Foydl was canned, along with her co-workers, before WorldCom’s troubles made corporate scandal headlines.

“We just watched it all unfold in disbelief,” she said. “We had no idea.”

WorldCom has sunk further and further into the hole it dug when it hid billions of dollars in expenses from shareholders. Before filing for bankruptcy protection, WorldCom began cutting costs. The first to go: employee benefits, such as long-distance minutes and coffee machines. When that still didn’t lighten the load, WorldCom began dumping employees in record numbers, and the entire Rancho Cordova center got the ax.

WorldCom’s failings come in the wake of corporate scandals such as Enron, Arthur Anderson and the California energy market manipulations that have landed everyone from Dick Cheney to Ross Perot in the hot seat. It seems America’s loss of faith is not only in the Catholic Church, but in the major corporations that are the mainstay of a stock market that continues to sputter and flail like a stalled engine.

The skeptics who once warned of the danger of large corporations are starting to seem less like doomsayers and more like prophets. Layoffs are the first line of defense when things turn sour, and many corporate refugees like Foydl are going off on their own, starting up businesses where they cannot be betrayed by corporate malfeasance.

Foydl says that in the case of the Rancho Cordova office, a few of the employees were offered transfers to Tulsa, Oklahoma, or San Antonio, Texas, but most of the management was left high and dry. For those who chose to remain in Sacramento, they became jobless. With the telecom market in bad shape across the board, jobs in the industry are in short supply.

That was all right for Foydl, who is no stranger to folding companies. She came to WorldCom after a smaller company folded under the pressure of the growing telecoms. Foydl retains her optimism, believing that, “90 percent of the people go on to bigger and better things.”

One of her co-workers is opening a lawn service, another an engraving business. Some of the phone technicians are going to Blue Cross. Not Foydl.

“I definitely needed a break from corporate America. My 401k is in the basement,” she said. “I need to have my destiny in my own hands.”

She remembered an article about dog-waste removal services that had done well in Ohio, St. Louis and Marin over a year ago. The idea appealed to her, she says, because of her love of the outdoors, dogs and the desire to be her own boss. Scooping a little poop seemed a small price to pay to fulfill all three wishes.

Fortunately, she still had a copy of the magazine featuring the article and went online to research just how difficult it could be to open a pooper-scooper service of her own. Not very, she explains. Foydl learned a lot about what not to do and approached her friends and family with the idea.

“They’re kinda laughing at me right now, but they’re encouraging,” she says. “They say if anyone can do it, you can do it.”

Foydl plans to operate Doodie Duty in the greater Sacramento area, with prices set by the number of dogs, not the size of their doodie. Foydl said having your very own pooper-scooper is not just for the rich and fabulous. When her own parents were ill, and their canine companion forced to bunk up with friends, waste removal was a real issue. She said she would have been thrilled to pay someone to take the burden off the generous caregivers.

But even the average Joe who just hates scooping the yard is in luck. Some people, said Foydl, are just repulsed by it. She also offers her services to seniors, the disabled and “working” dogs, such as the sheriff’s department K-9 units or seeing-eye dogs. Apparently, providing the service is as important to Foydl as procuring a paycheck. Compared to getting crapped on by a crumbling corporation, being on the scooper side of the poop pile is a major step up for Foydl.

“I’m looking forward to helping out. I think it’s just gonna give me a good feeling,” she said.

As if the aesthetics of fly-attracting piles of poop around your yard weren’t bad enough, their contaminants can seep into the ground water. A few local veterinarians who Foydl has spoken with support her service because infections such as parvo (an often fatal virus in young puppies), giardia (which can be communicable to humans) and various types of worms can be transmitted to other animals, or to people, through feces.

And you thought those little piles were just stinky.

Sacramento’s canine caregivers are of two minds. There are those such as McKinley Park resident Bonnie Johnson who think the service is a long time in coming. As a black Labrador mix named Simon tugs her down the jog trail, she said, “the sooner the better. I have to pay my kids to do it anyway.”

Others, such as Jeremy Paulsen of Elk Grove, scoff at the idea of paying someone else to do a task that he definitely doesn’t look forward to, but considers part and parcel with dog ownership. Judging from the size of his full-grown Weimeraner, his shit-shoveling duties are pretty substantial. But Paulsen won’t be calling any service anytime soon.

While he supports Foydl’s decision to take a crack at small business ownership, he laughs, “It’s totally unnecessary. People are so lazy.”

Foydl lets the doubters and snickerers have their chuckle. She’s excited about the possibilities and the changes this business could bring to her life.

“I think I’m gonna be more relaxed, less stressed, I’ll have the time and the flexibility in my schedule that I really need right now,” she said.

On her way to pick up her children, Foydl notes the importance of the time she will now be able to devote to her family, instead of punching someone else’s clock. To some, scooping poop may not be their idea of a good time. But for Janie Foydl it’s better than getting pooped on by a corporation going down the toilet. As far as she’s concerned, WorldCom can clean up its own mess.