Decked out wearing white overalls, brooms and shovels at the ready, they’re known as the unsung heroes, often hearing the loudest cheers during the Rose Parade.
Meet the pooper scoopers, prepared to spring into action from the sidelines to clean up what horses leave behind as equestrian units make the turn at TV corner for their 5 ½ – mile journey down Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard to the appreciation of millions viewing it on television screens and thousands more watching the New Year’s Day spectacle live.
Five of the volunteers cast in the role have ties to South Pasadena, including Peggy O’Leary, who returns for her 30th parade, joining her husband, John Vandercook, making the effort for the first time; Diana Mahmud, a member of the local City Council; Laurie Wheeler, the president of the Chamber of Commerce in town; and Karla Thompson, DDS, owner of an orthodontics practice on Fair Oaks Avenue.
Together they will stand ready to make a quick dash when the need calls, smiling, of course, while performing their behind-the-scenes duty of scooping up the poop.
“Absolutely no training is necessary, attitude of fun and whimsy is all that is needed!” said O’Leary, when asked what it takes to become a top-notch pooper scooper.
Saturday’s 133rd Rose Parade with a theme of “Dream. Believe. Achieve.” marks the 30th time she has carried out the traditional chore as dozens of floats, marching bands and, oh yes, all those horses go by.
It’s the “fun of being on the street greeting one another, the energy of the crowd,” and the pageantry of it all that keeps O’Leary and others coming back for more each year.
Soaking it all in, she’s reminded, saying: “If we all greeted one another as we do at the parade we might enjoy a more peaceful world.”
When telling others she’s a Rose Parade pooper scooper O’Leary often hears, “Are you crazy?’”
She’s not, of course, just dedicated to the annual chore, and looks forward to enjoying the experience, especially this time around with her husband, who for years has watched her from the reviewing grandstand “scoop the poop,” as he calls it, “with grace and wonderful coordination, all the while hamming it up with her fellow pooper scoopers.”
So, now Vandercook will be jumping into the task as her super scooper husband. “As a newbie this will be a fun new sensation and wonderful memory builder,” he said.
When telling friends about what’s in store for him, he sometimes hears: “How fun is that,” followed by: “Do you have your own personal shovel?”
Like Vandercook, Thompson is new at it, calling herself “a virgin Pooper Scooper,” noting that she will also be attending her first Rose Parade. “Can’t beat this as my introduction.”
Her training will be on-the-job. “However, I anticipate great pooper scooper moves,” she joked, recognizing it might take some quickness to avoid “getting kicked by the pooper.”
Mahmud, who was part of the horse cleanup crew for the Rose Parade two years ago – the 2021 last January canceled on account of COVID – said at the time: “ It was incredibly fun. You get a different perspective because you’re right up close next to the float and marching bands. You get a complete different feeling being here on the ground level, looking at everything going by.”
And, of course, the horses, too, which kept her plenty busy. “You get a complete different feeling being here on the ground level, looking at everything going by” the councilwoman added. “It was very enjoyable.”
Wheeler, back for a fourth time, says she’s never seen a bad pooper-scooper, and appreciates the solid advice ahead of the parade. “Peggy reminds us of what we need to do, and we are all a team – everyone helps each other out,” she said. “I am a parent, and have had dogs just about my entire life, so I’ve been cleaning up messes for years. I guess that’s my training!”
From where she and the other pooper scoopers are located, Wheeler is convinced “we get the absolute best seats in the house for the parade. We just need to stay out of the range of the cameras, but we are right on the 50-yard line, so to speak. The first time I heard cheers from the crowd was quite surprising. But, the crowd is so much fun – everyone is having a great time!”
When she tells people about her unique undertaking during the parade, Wheeler said responses range from “Wow, that’s cool – can I do that?” to, with an expression of disbelief, “You mean you get up early on New Year’s Day to pick up horse poop?”
Her entire life, she has enjoyed the Rose Parade, a can’t miss attraction. “I’ve slept on the streets, rode a bike to it in the morning, decorated the floats when I was in college, sat in the grandstands, and, of course, watched it on TV,” said Wheeler. “This is a small way to give back for all the joy I’ve received. Plus, what better way to start the new year than by being part of Peggy’s awesome team, and celebrating with the entire world!”