Survival Jobs You Never Thought You'd Be Thankful For

You probably never thought you'd be thankful for these survival jobs.

Nov. 26, 2009 — -- 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.

'From the Penthouse to the Outhouse'

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."

Lifting the Odd Jobs Stigma

Telmanowski's not the only one who's open-minded about offbeat work.

Christine Durst, co-founder of the home-based job listing site, 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.

Jeremy Redleaf has also seen many an eager survival job seeker since founding the site earlier this year.

"We've definitely made some strides in lifting the odd job stigma," said Redleaf, whose site features a cornucopia of original listings and feeds from Craigslist. "I think a lot of people have had to consider things they would have never considered before."

But the ability to pay one's bills is not the only silver lining in cleaning someone's bathroom or pressure washing their sidewalk.

"You never know who you're going to meet on an odd job," Redleaf said. "You could go babysit for someone who happens to a run a company that you want to work for."

We're All in the 'Same Leaky Boat'

The fact that everyone and their grandmother has had to make lemons into lemon meringue pie this past year also has done wonders to help lift the survival job stigma.

"I know there are many people out there struggling with the pride issue," said Lara Vander Ploeg, a life coach in Chicago who took a job at a chi-chi pet boutique when her ex-husband was laid off at the start of the year and she was faced with losing child support.

"I would be lying if I said it doesn't cross my mind what people are saying," offered Vander Ploeg, who's bumped into coaching colleagues during her shifts at the store. But, she added, "The alternative is more frightening to me. I would rather hawk dog food than lose my house and put us through that kind of stress."

Besides, she said, "So many people are in the same leaky boat. If there was ever a time to get out of debt or make ends meet by working those extra jobs, it's now."

'I May Have Missed My Calling'

For some, a job taken out of necessity turns into a career revelation.

Such was the case for Jonas Bull of Jackson, Miss., who grudgingly accepted a full-time sales position this fall after getting laid off from his job as an IT administrator.

"The impression that I had of sales was that it was a very money-driven, used-car, greed-oriented occupation," said Bull, whose new job came with a significant pay cut.

"But I've found that sales is a relationship-oriented occupation, and that's resonated with me very well. I may have missed my calling."

As for Telmanowski, the fearless poop scooper, he's as happy as a dog who stole a drumstick off the Thanksgiving dinner table.

"At the end of the day, I am content," he said. "There's certainly a lot less stress doing this. It's better than sitting in a chair and taking a loss of a reduced pension because I retired too early."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist and former cubicle dweller. She is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube". For more information, see