Win trembles with anticipation when her chauffeur opens the door of her crate. The petite black-and-white border collie knows she has work to do.
Win bounds out, searching for her unconventional quarry, ready to herd. She spots a flock of about a dozen geese feeding on the well-manicured grass of Clove Lake Park in Staten Island. She crouches until her belly is almost on the ground, tucks her tail between her legs, and slinks toward the geese, fixing them with an intense glare.
The geese honk in alarm, first trotting across the lawn and then reluctantly spreading their wings and taking off. Win, her body still quaking, keeps up her fierce stare until the geese have disappeared.
Scaring off the ubiquitous Canada geese that see New York’s parks, cemeteries, and golf courses as a year-round salad bar is exactly the point. Joe Kohl is Win’s human co-worker at Geese Police, but he is the first to say that, when it comes to interacting with geese, his main function is driving Win from site to site. When he interviews potential employees, Kohl tells them, only half joking, “If the dogs had thumbs, we wouldn’t need you.”
The number of geese on the East Coast has nearly tripled in the past twenty years. Attempts to keep the birds and their copious feces off of lawns and away from airports have spawned an entire industry of companies with names such as Bird-B-Gone and Goose Busters. Indulging their inner frat boys, goose hazers have tried everything from lasers to fireworks. Geese Police claims to have pioneered the idea of using border collies, bred to herd sheep along the English-Scottish border, to scare off geese (a federally protected species) without ever touching them. Now the practice is so common that Geese Police lost New York’s Central Park as a client in a bidding war, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture employs a staff of goose-tormenting dogs.
But Win and I are both a little disappointed by the geese’s quick departure this afternoon. Win’s instinct is to gather them up and bring them to a human. I, on the other hand, was hoping the geese would land in the park’s lake so I could witness another border collie trick: kayaking.
Because geese often head to the middles of lakes to escape their predators, border collies have taken to the water in pursuit. They do their silent glowering from a kayak, leaving uneasy geese to wonder how the hell a wolf got so far out on the water.
The geese in the park aren’t a problem today, but Kohl has arranged for me to see a kayaking dog, even if the outing is recreational. Win isn’t much of a kayaker, so another Geese Police duo joins us. As her crate is opened, Gail whines and shuffles before running toward the kayak. Joe Compton is the thumbs of the operation, and when he is situated in the boat, Gail effortlessly hops between his legs, facing the bow.
Compton paddles around the serene lake, green from the reflections of the lush trees that surround it. The scene is comically pastoral: a man and his dog, out enjoying the day. But though Gail looks relaxed, she is also alert. If a goose dared come close, she would drop her head, hunch her shoulders, and start the stare-down.