Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company

The New York Times

August 7, 1997, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section C; Page 10; Column 3; Home Desk

HEADLINE: Herders Routing Geese On Links


"WAY to me!" Jim Weyland, the superintendent of the Shorehaven Golf Club in East Norwalk, Conn., said firmly to his Border Collie, Skip, as they rode on a golf cart toward a pond on the course. That command sent the black and white dog racing off the cart and after a gaggle of 20 Canada geese near the 18th fairway.

In seconds, the geese, screeching in unison, dived into the water as Skip circled the pond counterclockwise (as the command "way to me" told him to do, in Border Collie speak). Skip plunged in to pursue the geese, which eventually took flight and headed for Long Island Sound.

For years, Canada geese have made a mess of fairways at Shorehaven, a private club, which, with its half-mile of coastline, four ponds and 43 acres of marsh, is nirvana for the birds. Oblivious to irate golfers, they have refused to move, even when golf balls whistled among them.

But the ubiquitous Canada geese have met their Waterloo in Border Collies. Where noisemakers, scarecrows, plastic swans and multicolor flags have failed, the Border Collie, a highly intelligent dog that can run like a deer, has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of course superintendents.

"We had about 500 of the geese, which were driving us crazy," said Tracey Holliday, the head greenskeeper at the Sterling Farms public golf course in Stamford, Conn. "But I got my Border Collie four years ago, and now we don't have any, except for some occasional stragglers."

More and more courses have turned to Border Collies to rid their manicured greenswards of the defiant geese, which have spread in recent years as far west as California.

Border Collies weigh about 40 pounds and are 15 to 25 inches high. "They're very loyal and friendly, although not always good around children," said Herb Waterous, the superintendent at the Scarsdale Country Club in New York. Mr. Waterous, like most superintendents who use a Border Collie, takes his home every night. "They need a lot of attention and don't like being left alone," he said. "It's like having another child."

By the time Peter Ruggieri, the superintendent at the Inwood (N.Y.) Country Club, got his Border Collie, Rock, in 1993, the club needed help.

"The geese and their droppings were all over the place," he said. "But a couple of months after Rock got here, the geese were gone. Rock is so vigilant that the geese won't even fly over the course anymore. Smart? He's smarter than me."

Now at dozens of courses in the New York area, Border Collies chase the geese. The practice has spread to suburban corporate office parks.

The great goose chase began in 1992, when Richard Marcks, the superintendent at the Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., decided to find out if Border Collies, which he had seen herding cattle in Monmouth County, N.J., when he was younger, would herd geese -- up, up and away. "I got in touch with the American Border Collie Association, and when I told them what I wanted the dogs for, they thought I was crazy," Mr. Marcks said. But they referred him to Barbara Ligon.

Mrs. Ligon was dubious, too. But she sold Mr. Marcks a 2-year-old dog named Tac, along with a training video that includes the herding commands. Within a year, Mr. Marcks said, all the geese were gone. At least from Fairview.

Unfortunately for golfers at the nearby Tamarack Country Club, most of Fairview's geese simply moved one golf course over. That practically forced Tamarack to get a Border Collie, which within a year chased away 500 geese.

Mrs. Ligon says that chasing the geese away is far more humane than permitting hunters to shoot them or trap them, measures that are permitted in some states. But the geese don't always go peacefully.

Laura Henze, an official of the Agriculture Department's Animal Damage Control Agency in Amherst, Mass., said that contrary to popular belief, Canada geese can be aggressive, particularly after their goslings hatch in early summer. "They can beat you with their wings or bite you," Ms. Henze said. "And I've heard of a few instances where the geese have attacked dogs in ponds and drowned them."

Such attacks appear rare. "The few geese that occasionally fly into one of our ponds stay away from my dog, Cap," Ms. Holliday of the Sterling Farms course said. "And if they try to get to the other side of the pond, Tara, my Dalmatian, is waiting for them." Given that choice, Ms. Holliday said, the geese may fly to the E. Gaynor Brennan public course, which has no Border Collie.

Originally bred in Scotland, Border Collies sell for about $2,800. Besides "Way to me," the commands include "Come by" (run clockwise) and "That'll do here," which prompts the dogs to return.

Long before Border Collies came into vogue, Chuck Martineau, the superintendent at the Whippoorwill Club in Armonk, N.Y. used Lucky, an English setter, to chase geese. From 1985 until 1992, when Lucky died, he roamed Whippoorwill in pursuit of the Canada goose. He became so beloved at Whippoorwill that a memorial plaque was set in a stone at the 10th tee after his death. "Lucky's Run," the plaque says. "Dedicated to our bird dog 'Lucky,' who kept the geese from Whippoorwill."

No Whippoorwill golfer has ever been honored in similar fashion.

GRAPHIC: Photo: Skip, a Border Collie, herding a flock of Canada geese out of the Shorehaven Golf Club. (Susan Farley for The New York Times)


BCR Bird Strike Control Program

Border Collie Rescue Bird Strike Control Program