Dogs unleashed on unwanted geese

Dogs unleashed on unwanted geese



Monday, Jun. 07 2010

BALLWIN The border collie mix is named Serengeti, or "Geti" for short, and in
the battle against an overabundance of geese, she's a popular weapon.

On a recent morning, Geti bounded off a golf cart and searched the woods at the
edge of the Ballwin Golf Course fairway.

A few weeks before, Geti chased a flock of two dozen geese at the course. But
they were nowhere in sight now.

"We are training the geese to go someplace where they are welcome," said Rib
Bolton, Geti's master.

It appears to be working.

In its war on geese a war waged by other area cities Ballwin has tried
nearly every method, short of killing them. The city has used fireworks and owl
decoys, and has even strung mylar grids across ponds to make swimming for the
geese difficult.

The dogs seem to be "about the only thing that's helping," said John Hoffman,
Ballwin's deputy director of parks.

A few weeks ago, the Board of Aldermen voted to pay Bolton $1,950 this year to
help shoo the geese out of city parks and other public areas.

Bolton admits the compensation is paltry compared with the $8,000 the city paid
another company to manage geese. But Bolton, who founded Humane Goose
Management about a year ago, is operating at a reduced rate to get a foothold
in the region's goose removal business.

For years, the abundance of rivers in the St. Louis region has meant an
abundance of Canada geese. And as suburbs grew, developers and cities
unwittingly created ideal geese habitats subdivisions and parks with large
open fields, lakes and ponds where the fowl felt safe.

"We are battling to get them out of the area we created," Bolton said.

The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates that the state is home to
between 50,000 and 75,000 Canada geese.

The problems geese create range from damage to landscaping to acting menacingly
toward children. The biggest complaint, though, is the mess they leave on
sidewalks. An adult goose generates more than a pound of waste per day.

And now, a handful of municipalities say dogs are getting the job done.

"This is by far the most effective method to get rid of them we've come
across," said Kirkwood Parks and Recreation Director Murray Pounds.

Pounds said the city spends about $6,500 per year for the services of Gateway
Goose Control, another local company that uses border collies.

"It's worth every penny," Pounds said.


Bolton has about a dozen clients. Most are subdivisions and businesses that
have ponds and acres of shortly cropped grass. On a typical patrol, Geti and
Bolton's other border collie mix, Savannah, run circles around a pond, herding
geese into flight or into the middle of the water.

The dogs jump in, swimming after them. Then Bolton uses a remote-controlled toy
boat to steer the geese back toward the dogs. The birds eventually tire of the
chase and fly off.

Tom Meister, a Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife damage biologist,
said the method works but has drawbacks. While cities solve their own geese
problem, they often do so at the expense of a neighbor.

"If you chase geese out of Ballwin, where do they go?" he said.

Proponents of the border collie method say it's the most humane way to manage
them. They acknowledge that the geese settle someplace else, but it may be in a
place where they don't bother anyone.

"There are lots of places they can go," said Nancy Schnell, the coordinator of
the St. Louis chapter of GeesePeace.

The chapter was founded in 2001 over concerns about cities rounding up geese
with the help of the Department of Conservation. Roundups are mostly done in
July when geese molt the process of shedding all their feathers. During the
molt, geese can't fly and are easily captured in nets and sent to slaughter.

Over the years, Ballwin aldermen have discussed rounding up geese, but they
have never followed through for fear of angering residents.

In 2004, the city of St. Louis conducted a roundup at Forest Park. The city had
spent more than $65,000 repairing damaged vegetation and cleaning up goose
droppings the year before. Park and conservation department employees captured
roughly 70 geese.

GeesePeace argued it was senseless slaughter because more geese would simply
take their place.

The city had a change of heart soon after, and St. Louis now pays Gateway Goose
Control roughly $30,000 a year for border collies to chase off geese from
Forest Park and Wilmore Park.

"We are in the public relations business," said Joe Vacca, the city's deputy
parks commissioner. "We don't want to be hurting anything."

The city tried owning its own geese-chasing dog a few years ago but decided to
hire outside help because employees weren't equipped to properly train the


Denise Shaiper, who owns Gateway Goose Control, has been in the business for
about nine years. Instead of a remote-controlled boat, she hops into a kayak
and helps her dogs chase geese out of some of the city's large lakes. She has
nine clients and doesn't seem to mind having a new competitor.

"There's enough work for several companies," she said.

Besides Shaiper and Bolton, Schnell of GeesePeace said she only knows of one
other company in the area that uses dogs to herd geese.

Schnell helped recruit Bolton to the work because of lack of geese management
companies. But it wasn't a cheap business to get into. The dogs, along with
their training, cost as much as $6,000, Bolton said.

Before he founded the goose management company, Bolton worked as a marine
biologist in different parts of the country and owned a local dog kennel.

One day last week, Bolton drove his SUV through Vlasis Park and the golf course
in Ballwin, plus a few ponds at Westport Plaza in Maryland Heights, a nursing
home in North County and back to a subdivision in Ballwin. The dogs stayed in a
crate in the back of the SUV between stops.

At the end of the day, Bolton wound up in New Ballwin Park, where about a dozen
adult geese sat on the bank of a pond or in the water. Geti and Savannah chased
a couple of the birds into the air. The rest swam into the middle of the water.

Bolton approached a couple of people fishing, asking them to reel in their
lines so his the dogs wouldn't get hooked.

Geti and Savannah dived in but couldn't catch up to the geese. Bolton put his
remote-controlled boat in the water. Earlier in the day, one of the boat's
rudders broke, so it wasn't much help.

After about 20 minutes, he gave up.

The dogs couldn't do all the work. The goose chase would have to wait for
another day.

"All right, we're done," he said, calling the dogs out of the water. "I'll come

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