Dog, geese remain at war

Repellent considered as lake flock turns to `nighttime raids'

August 04, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

It was a wild goose chase -- literally -- that did Bud in.

The Columbia Association's border collie, hired two years ago to help keep the messy birds away from the heavily trafficked Town Center lakefront, injured himself on the job in June, sidelining him for six weeks during peak waterfowl patrol season.

The gaggle took full advantage of Bud's absence, outpacing Bud's rookie replacement, the younger and less experienced Dart.

Now, though Bud is back at work full time, the homeowners group is pondering a more drastic measure: chemical warfare.

"While our dogs can keep them off the Town Center Plaza during most of the daylight hours, these birds have adapted to nighttime raids on our turf by the light provided by our plaza lighting (unwise handouts from people don't help the situation)," reads the most recent report from President Deborah O. McCarty to the Columbia Council, the association's governing body.

"By dawn's early light, the turf areas and plaza surfaces are covered with droppings."

Each goose produces about a pound of droppings a day.

"We don't hate geese," said Chick Rhodehamel, the Columbia Association's director of open space management. "We just don't like the droppings in one particular area on the western shore of Lake Kittamaqundi."

Since Bud's hiring, Rhodehamel said, the 7-year-old black and white border collie has helped bring down the number of geese at the downtown lakefront from about 200 to two dozen or so.

Now back on the job with handler Michael Prout of the open space division, Bud also sometimes takes trips to the local golf course to scatter geese there, if needed.

"We feel he's been very effective in helping us manage our problem here," said Rhodehamel.

But birds beware: After Bud cut his paw on a piece of glass in June and a flock of nesting geese settled in on the lakefront plaza -- where residents and visitors congregate for summer concerts and other activities -- the association purchased an "avian aversion agent" known as ReJeX-iT designed to keep the birds away.

"Thanks to ReJeX-iT AG-36, there are many happy people that can enjoy their lawn again this summer without stepping into these ugly goose droppings," says a product brochure distributed to Columbia Council members.

Harmless to flowers, pets and people, ReJeX-iT is mixed with water and applied directly to grass.

The chemical, which gives grass a grape flavor supposedly unpleasant to geese, has a success rate of 85 percent to 95 percent, the brochure said.

Even so, the brochure warns, "Training geese to leave your lawn is not an easy job. It requires not only an effective repellent such as ReJeX-iT AG-36, but also a considerable understanding of goose behavior. And, there are always some geese with bad temper."

Rhodehamel said the association is monitoring the number of geese that visit the plaza at night, and will soon decide whether to spray the chemical agent.

Bud's is not an easy job. The dog has injured himself several times before, on three of his four paws. The latest cut hampered his running ability, and left him unable to perform his regular swimming routine (which his backup, Dart, was not practiced enough to do without a tether).

"Heaven forbid he hits another piece of broken glass along the edge of the lake," said Rhodehamel.

Jean S. Friedberg Jr., the Columbia Council representative from Hickory Ridge, said Bud runs a risk of injury every time he goes in the water.

"We can't keep putting him in harm's way like that," Friedberg said.

If, ultimately, the ReJeX-iT doesn't solve the "goose problem," the Columbia Association will resort to "Plan B."

Rhodehamel said he isn't at liberty to discuss what that might entail.

The goal is to get the birds to camp in a different spot around the lake, some place without a lot of human activity.

Said Rhodehamel: "It's just, `Please, not here.' "

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