Though each district in Bucks County, and Pennsylvania, must update its population tallies, the Bensalem duo are unique. Many large districts have switched from a door-to-door canvass to a computer mailing system.
The latter is a faster method, but the personal contact makes the job rewarding and also adventurous, said Portner, a teacher's aide in the special- education program at Belmont Hills Elementary School in Bensalem.
"We have been chased by a rooster, a chicken, a horse and quite a number of farm animals," she said, jokingly recalling census taking when Bensalem was mostly rural. "But most of the people we meet are nice."
Some residents, however, are initially skeptical of Mass and Portner's business.
"A lot of times we get confused with tax collectors and Jehovah's Witnesses," said Mass, of Lower Makefield Township, who has a number of other jobs. She is a licensed auctioneer, a real-estate broker, a free-lance bookkeeper and proprietor of a jewelry and pottery boutique in New Hope.
"If we ever come into a hostile situation, we just ignore it and say thank you very much and leave," Mass said while visiting houses along Joshua Drive on Friday. "Every door you knock on is a different experience."
Like the time they came upon The Naked Man a few years back.
"He must have just gotten out of bed and that's how he probably always answers the door," Mass giggled. "I verified his name and occupation and never looked down."
Recently, such amusing moments have been overshadowed by evidence of the long recession. In one random block of five homes last week, for example, three people told the census takers that they had lost their jobs.
"Times are a lot sadder," said Mass, identifying the jobless trend.
Mass and Portner split their responsibilities, each working part time, averaging 15 hours per week. They receive a nominal fee based on the number of homes and apartments they visit during a particular week.
"I do the map-reading and the organization, and she does the talking," said Portner. The verified data are then collected and tabulated at the district administration building by Janet Zacney, census coordinator.
After 18 years of census taking, Mass and Portner have an established routine. Twice a year, they separately visit the township's 9,000 apartments, and in the spring and the fall they team up for the house census in several neighborhoods.
Because the municipality is so large - almost 21 square miles - it takes seven to 10 years for them to complete one whole census. There are about 59,000 residents in the township, and the number of single homes has skyrocketed in the last five years.
It was a help-wanted advertisement in a local newspaper that brought these two women together nearly 20 years ago. They met at a group meeting - there were six enumerators in the beginning - and hit it off because each had young children at home.
Both said they planned to continue to count Bensalem residents for the foreseeable future. "We enjoy doing this very much," Mass said.
In only one other area school district do two census takers have a closer bond - and that is in Morrisville, where a married couple conducts a door-to- door census in the borough.