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City may hire dog to chase geese from park

December 11, 1997

City may hire dog to chase geese from park

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Hagerstown officials might have been barking up the wrong tree when seeking ways to reduce the number of waterfowl at City Park.

City officials have considered shaking eggs to prevent them from hatching, banning feeding and moving the Canada geese and ducks elsewhere, steps they've taken in the past to thin the park's waterfowl population.

Now they're considering turning to man's best friend.

Hagerstown Parks Board members are expected to vote tonight on a recommendation that the city get a border collie to discourage hundreds of waterfowl from nesting at the park, said Doug Stull, public works manager.

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The 5 p.m. meeting will be held at the Public Works Department at 51 W. Memorial Blvd.

The board is expected to present their recommendation to the City Council in January.

The canine tactic has worked well in Columbia, Md., where officials paid $3,000 for a trained border collie that discourages waterfowl from nesting downtown.

Shaking eggs and expanding a limited feeding ban would cause a public outcry, said John Ziegler, chairman of the parks board. The feeding ban - currently in effect in limited areas - also would hurt business for the vendor at the park's concession stand, where corn for feeding the ducks and geese is sold, he said.

The birds do not leave the park because they have ample water from the lake, and are well fed by park visitors.

The board considered spraying the ground with a grape extract, which has an odor that repels waterfowl, Ziegler said. But that would be costly because there is a lot of ground to cover and the spray washes off, he said.

Putting birth control material in the feed has had mixed results in other communities, Ziegler said.

So that left the dog.

Columbia started using Bud, a 3-year-old black and white border collie, last February to herd waterfowl from around the lake downtown, said Fred Pryor, director of Columbia's open space management division.

The community had more than 220 geese before Bud arrived, Pryor said. The other day, Pryor said, he counted 35 geese around the lake.

Twice each day, year around, Bud herds geese into the lake, preventing them from nesting on the land, Pryor said.

It's gotten to the point where the geese run into the water as soon as they see the truck drive up with Bud, who lives with a staff member, Pryor said.

Even local attorney and waterfowl protector Wiley Rutledge thinks the border collie idea is the best approach.

Rutledge said that in September he gave the board a petition signed by 1,136 people who opposed shaking eggs and banning feed.

The border collie doesn't attack the birds, but convinces them to move along, said Rutledge, who saw Bud in action in October.

Rutledge said he doesn't want the dog to be used during the mating season because the adults would be scared away, leaving the ducklings and goslings to starve.

Park officials said the dog would be put to work before nesting season begins in May to prevent waterfowl from mating at the park.

Board member Bill Sagle, who also saw Bud in action, said the dog was friendly, well disciplined and did its job.

Border collies traditionally herd livestock, but some were trained to herd waterfowl after ducks began damaging golf courses, said Charles Errington, president of the U.S. Border Collie Handlers Association.

"We don't want to eliminate the population," but get the waterfowl population down from 900 to around 100, Ziegler said. So many geese and ducks call the park home that landscaping is being torn up and the walkways are covered with droppings, he said.

Stull is still researching the cost of leasing or buying a border collie.

Park officials said the city could share the costs and services of a collie with businesses, golf courses and country clubs that also have too many waterfowl.

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