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It's A Funny Business

Will Prairie Dog Sucking Become Newest Sweeper Sideline?

Although the following story doesn't exactly fit in the category of sweeping, since we couldn't figure out what category it would fit into we decided it was worth retelling.

In February our editorial staff got a call alerting us about a CNN clip on "a guy out west somewhere who is sucking up prairie dogs with a Vac-All." Since we don't have these critters around here and had no idea why someone would want to do that, let alone how one could charge for the process, we investigated.

Yes, prairie dogs are a nuisance where the large colonies are located. Not only do they build unsightly mounds on people's lawns and fields, their tunnels and holes contribute to broken legs among livestock, especially horses and cows. Apparently they are becoming an increasing problem because of humans' attempt to eradicate them earlier in the century: the use of strychnine intended for the prairie dogs virtually wiped out their primary enemy, the black-footed ferret. Ever since strychnine was outlawed, prairie dog colonies have been expanding.

It seems that a gentleman named Gay Balfour had a dream one night about the way to solve the problem. Although he claims he was unaware of equipment which might do the job, his dream told him to get some kind of big vacuum machine and suck the rascals right out of their tunnels. Being a man of action and no stranger to heavy equipment, since he's owned a machine shop for going on 20 years, Balfour soon took possession of a Vac-All and went out to try his luck.

In a phone interview from his Cortez, Colorado home, Mr. Balfour enthused about the venture's success so far, under the trademarked concept Dog Gone (TM). "Last year I collected over 4,000 of the critters," he told us. "I put foam rubber padding over the deflector of the Vac-All, and the animals aren't even hurt. Without a market for them alive, however, most have had to be destroyed."

The good news is that because of the publicity he received in his CNN interview, several Japanese companies have contacted him about exporting the little doggies to Japan for use as pets. Apparently they are easily tamed and can live as long as 8 years. He was also featured on one of Japan's top-rated television spots, called Show By Shoebi. It sounded like a What's My Line take-off in which a film clip is shown of a situation, and the star panelists then have to figure out what the people in the film are doing. It's easy to imagine that they might have had some trouble figuring out this particular doggone concept.

"What's next?" we asked. Balfour said that he has already been contacted by others who want to get into the business and is trying to work out a deal to get trucks built to his specifications. He also sees an additional tie-in ridding people of moles and pocket gophers and has interest from an investor in Australia who wants to address their rabbit population. This may even become the newest add-on sideline for sweeper operators!

If you want to reach Balfour, you may call him at 303-565-9885.

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, v1 n1 1992.

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