October 1, 2013

Collies corral a monumental mess

By Arthur Hirsch
The Baltimore Sun

(Continued from page 1)

The dogs don’t touch the geese – in many cases they never come within the distance of a friendly toss of a crust of bread. They want to herd the birds, not hurt them, as other breeds might, even if the geese find them scary.

HUMANE SOCIETY APPROVES

Something about their stalk, even the look in their eye, appears to convey danger. Boo, for instance, moves less like a dog than a cat – head low, padding silently toward the prey.

“When the dog’s out there, they’re looking at it like it’s a predator out there,” said LaPorta, who takes care of Boo and his colleagues Joe, Glen and Millie at his home in northern Baltimore County.

While LaPorta has to return to his clients for repeat visits, he said the geese dwindle as visits continue, suggesting the fear that the dogs instill in the birds lingers.

Why is hard to say, but it does appear to work, said Lynsey White Dasher, the director of humane wildlife conflict resolution for the Humane Society of the United States. She said she cannot point to any formal studies of the subject, but anecdotal accounts “have shown the effectiveness of the dogs.”

And not just any dogs. Border collies seem to work better than just having another type of dog go chasing the birds and barking, she said. She’s heard about the border collie’s “crazy eye,” meaning its predatory stare, and wonders if their feline or fox-like movements might explain it.

In any case, she said, the society approves of this approach as a humane way to chase geese, with conditions including dog training and limiting the pursuit chiefly to the fall and winter – when the birds are not nesting, guarding their newborn goslings, or molting and unable to fly.

LaPorta said he observes limits, and often has to explain to bystanders that this method of goose control is considered humane. Bystanders ask what he does when he catches the geese, and he has to explain that he doesn’t catch them.

He and Boo had a busy day Thursday, herding geese at 11 stops in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, then circling back to Fort McHenry around closing time at 5 p.m.

“There wasn’t a goose around,” said LaPorta, who saw as many 90 geese at the fort in the morning early this week. “They’re starting to get the hint already, and they’re staying away.”

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