A year ago, Fred Telmanowski wouldn't have dreamed of entering the pet waste removal business. Then his employer of 30 years sent him packing with only three months' severance pay.
"I had just financed three college educations and three weddings," said Telmanowski, an insurance brokerage executive making six figures. "I was desperate."
Today, Telmanowski is not only thankful for his new job running the Baltimore franchise of DoodyCalls, a national poop-scooping chain. He's reveling in it.
"My family and friends were far from thrilled," Telmanowski said of his decision to buy the business this fall. "But I felt liberated, challenged and ready to prove that I could make this pooper scooper thing work."
Chances are you know someone like Telmanowski: The real estate agent next door who hasn't sold a home in a year and now drives a school bus to make ends meet. The friend laid off from his bank manager job who now subsists on a hodgepodge of handyman gigs. The cousin who had her hours at the software company slashed and now sells organic fruit at the local farmer's market for extra cash.
The Department of Labor doesn't track the number of laid-off or underemployed workers who've landed in a survival job they're wildly overqualified for. It does, however, report that there are 3 million more involuntary part-time workers in the country than there were a year ago. In total, that's 9.3 million part-timers who either have had their hours cut or can't find a full-time job.
Some might regard the odd jobs today's displaced professionals take as turkeys. But $100 says those relying on survival work to keep a roof overhead count their paychecks -- no matter how small or sporadic -- among the list of things they're grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Telmanowski wasn't initially so gung-ho about his new vocation.
But after six months of unemployment -- and 400 job applications that led nowhere -- he found himself researching the earning potential of picking up people's dog droppings and maintaining pet waste stations at apartment complexes.
"Talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse," he said. "I first thought, 'My gosh, what I have come to?'"
Acquaintances and loved ones wondered the same thing.
"No one thought it was a good idea," Telmanowski said. That is, no one but the other DoodyCalls franchisees he spoke to, all of whom had seen their revenues continue to grow during the recession.
"It's an industry that can't be outsourced," said Telmanowski, who opened his doors this October and has been busily collecting new customers (as well as the leavings of their four-legged companions). "Technology's not going to take anything away from these dogs."
Telmanowski's not the only one who's open-minded about offbeat work.
Christine Durst, co-founder of the home-based job listing site RatRaceRebellion.com, has seen a big surge in calls and e-mails this year from stay-at-home moms curious about how to find "adult texting" or "phone actress" work. In October alone, Durst heard from more than 150 women looking to supplement their family income with these jobs; normally she wouldn't get that many calls in a year.
"Most explain that they have exhausted all other options and sound a bit sheepish -- even apologetic -- for inquiring about this kind of work," Durst said.