For years, the geese have been winning.
The city has amassed quite an arsenal in its long-running battle to discourage the fearless waterfowl from congregating at parks. Reflective tape. Noisemakers. A whistle that makes the sound of geese in distress. Not to mention the lethal — and somewhat unpopular — geese roundups.
But the geese have learned to maneuver around these methods, frustrating park service employees and citizens alike.
Now it’s up to Dulce.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department has hired Kathy Love and Dulce, her border collie, to deter the geese at Stephens Lake Park and Twin Lakes Recreation Area.
“It’s a pilot program,” Park Services Manager Mike Griggs said. “We’ve just started it for April and May.”
For the next two months, the city will be paying Love $500 a month to take Dulce out to the two parks and harass geese in hopes of scaring them off.
“We are trying to be pro-active rather than reactive,” Griggs said.
Park officials are concerned that later in the summer, water will become stagnant because the heat and fecal chloroform will rise to unsafe levels. The population of Canada geese at the lakes needs to be reduced this spring to help prevent problems later, Griggs said.
“We were concerned this year because we saw so many over the winter,” he said.
Griggs is optimistic about Dulce’s chances.
“It was recommended to us by several organizations,” Griggs said. “It’s been very effective across Missouri. We had done everything else, and that wasn’t working.”
Border collies are sheepherding dogs by nature. They are also useful for chasing away geese, Griggs said, because instead of chasing after a goose to attack it like other breeds, collies use a herding method to merely scare the waterfowl.
The only dog approved for this kind of program is a border collie, Griggs said.
“They don’t give up on a goose,” Griggs said. “They keep after them until they leave the site.”
Love thinks that Dulce is perfect for the challenge.
“She really likes having a job,” Love said.
She got the idea of using Dulce to help the parks department after a walk at Stephen’s Lake.
“When we had heavy rains in March we had flocks of about 200 geese at Stephen’s,” she said.
Love knew that park services personnel had been interested in using a border collie for geese control.
“In 2006 and 2007 they had wanted someone with a dog,” Love said. “I knew goose management was a problem for the city, and I knew she would be good at it. It’s instinct. She’s always had a herding instinct.”
This method is popular because it is nonlethal and environmentally friendly, unlike capturing and euthanizing the geese or using chemical repellents. Also, unlike using reflective tape, it does not produce an eyesore in public parks.
Griggs called it a “humane technique,” adding that Dulce is well-trained to never catch a goose.
Dulce is most effective at chasing geese on land, Love said. She’s less effective when the geese are in the middle of the lake, because it is tiring for Dulce to swim out to the center.
“She loses her advantage of speed and size in water,” Love said.
On Friday, Love and Dulce went out to Twin Lakes in the afternoon to check on the geese — as they’ve done every day since the first of the month. There were none in the swimming lake.
“Maybe they get the message that this isn’t a good place to hang out,” Love said.
She spotted a couple of geese on the shore of the second lake, and took Dulce in for a closer look. The geese waddled into the water and swam toward the lake’s center, making it difficult for Dulce to reach them.
Despite Dulce’s swimming limitations, Love and Griggs already think she is helping.
“She’s so effective it just took two days to get rid of six geese at Stephen’s,” Love said.
So far, Griggs said, Dulce’s efforts have been well received.
“During the winter we had about 200 geese at Stephen’s. Right now, we don’t see as many,” she said.
At the end of May, the parks and recreation staff will evaluate the effectiveness of the program and decide whether to use it in the future.