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Border collies tackle goose problem on campus

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Borders on Patrol is helping UB manage the “nuisance geese” population on the North Campus. All photos by Douglas Levere  

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published May 1, 2017

“We’re not there to harm any geese. We just want them to find a less-populated area to raise their families.”
Garrett Cygan
Borders on Patrol

For those at UB who have stared into the eyes of a menacing Canada goose, or heard the angry honking, or — more to the point — stepped into what indisputably can seem like ever-present green droppings, hope comes in the form of yearning, expressive eyes and inviting, pettable heads.

In the ongoing struggle for UB territory among scholars, students and geese, enter Bogey, a 5-year-old border collie with one eye surrounded by white fur and the other covered with a splash of black. His Gund-like, magazine-cover looks accompany a winning disposition right out of a “Lassie” episode.

At his side is his step-sister, 12-week-old Rory, named after the character in the “Gilmore Girls.” Rory as well has a face a stuffed animal would die for. Her eyes, mounted in rich, red-black fur, are separated by a white landing strip in the center of her cuddly head. The extra element of life and soul behind those expressive eyes makes her more captivating than a toy. Very much the younger sibling, Rory tends to watch what her older step-brother does, and then do her own version. Bogey comes up with a stick; Rory wants one just like it, almost every time.

They are here to make the UB North Campus safe from what a reasonable person would admit has been an increasing incursion of “nuisance geese.” The dogs’ mission is to do it in a way that is acceptable to those who understandably are also looking out for the interests of the geese.

“Any customer we have or any time anyone asks us, we tell them we provide a strictly humane and non-lethal approach to deter stubborn geese from being on property,” says Garrett Cygan, 24, whose father in 2007 started Borders on Patrol, the company UB has hired to address what university officials have acknowledged as a “public nuisance.”

“We’re not there to harm any geese,” says Cygan, who tells others he makes his living in “wildlife management.” “We just want them to find a less-populated area to raise their families.”

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Let it be stated here: There are no bad eggs in this story. Everyone wears a white collar, vulnerable and open to what nature commands. The fact that hundreds — and UB officials say that is a conservative estimate — of geese often walk around the North Campus with an attitude, occasionally threaten unsuspecting passers-by and then leave the area looking like a sewer treatment facility is not their fault.

Cygan, who by trade has become a de facto expert on the geese-gown interaction, will be the first to tell you that.

The geese are at their most aggressive these days, he says, because they are driven to start new nests, and then equally determined to protect them once eggs have hatched. The female lies on the nest and the male counterpart sticks nearby, more than ready to fling himself at anything or anyone coming near, setting the stage for the countless goose stories circulating in recent years throughout UB.

UB officials made this clear when they hired Borders on Patrol last spring, relaying reports of geese attacking people. Don’t harm the geese. It’s not their fault. And Cygan nods knowingly.

“That’s their territory,” he says.

Whether the geese are justified or not, Borders on Patrol has a job to do and a reputation to uphold. As the only border collie patrol in the area — the next-closest is in Syracuse — Cygan hopes to continue in the footsteps of his father, Craig Cygan, who started Borders On Patrol after a 23-year career with the U.S. Secret Service, and carry on the family’s “wildlife management” lineage.

So Cygan takes Bogey and Rory to known geese-gathering spots throughout the North Campus as many as five days a week, in good weather and bad. And they have nothing but the full support of UB administrators.

“The objective is to find a balance between the safety of the geese and the safety of the campus community,” says Christopher Donacik, assistant director of facilities operation. “The geese are very comfortable around people. A little too comfortable, at times.”

Donacik, who refers any interested party to UB’s FAQs document about “managing nuisance geese,” explains the Borders on Patrol marching orders are basically to control the geese population by moving them to areas less frequented by UB students, faculty and staff.

“The geese are not an endangered species,” says Donacik, who stresses that the U.S. Park Service and PETA both consider border collies a humane way to manage geese. “They’re partially protected under law. And we are doing our due diligence to protect the geese population, as well as make the campus safe.”

So Bogey and Rory are the chosen strategy to take on what anecdotal evidence indicates is a campus-wide geese problem. And anyone would be hard-pressed to find more reliable, committed UB employees than those two wearing their dog-bone-decorated collars. Like other respected and admired UB personnel, their hearts are in their jobs.

Cygan, as low-key and affable as anyone you’ll meet, keeps these UB canine employees on a tight leash, often literally. He is well-acquainted with the perils and public-relations baggage of using trained dogs to help geese find some other place to claim as home territory.

Border collies are especially good at geese management because of their strong herding instinct, evident in what Cygan and other animal trainers call “the eye.”

“It’s common in border collies,” says Cygan, who explains the eye as an actual look when the dogs face the geese. “Bogey has the eye. Herding instinct is in border collies’ blood. They have that look. The look in their eyes resembles coyotes. Their stalking methods also are very similar to how a fox or coyote would walk up to a goose.”

And as heavy as it may sound, the dogs’ rounds throughout campus have a clear purpose. It’s nesting season, so the Borders on Patrol strategy includes finding nests with eggs so Cygan can — in a humane way  — treat the nests to curtail the number of new geese entering the world.

With the dogs distracting the geese, Cygan gently approaches identified nests. The nests — usually found adjacent to marshes, under trees or, as in the case of the back of Greiner Hall, in plain view — host very large, brownish eggs. Cygan puts the eggs in a bucket of water and waits. If the egg floats, that means an embryo is inside. He leaves it alone and puts it back in the nest. If the egg sinks in the water, that indicates an egg without any reproductive growth.

“Like eggs in a supermarket,” he says.

Regulations allow him to pour corn oil on the unfertilized egg. This prevents the egg from getting any warmth when the mother goose sits on it, preventing any further growth and development. It’s birth control that does minimal damage to the unborn geese.

Naturally, this approach can lead to confrontations. With Cygan leading the way, Bogey that afternoon found two nests under the watch of a geese couple. Anyone outside on this overcast, drizzly day could see a classic, almost theatrical standoff between a barking Bogey and a frantically honking goose, including some nipping attempts on both sides.

After a minute or so, Bogey retreats back to Cygan and happily picks up a stick to celebrate. The geese return to the nests. But Cygan is satisfied work has been done.

“The geese are going to want to take care of their nests, even though both have been treated,” he says.

After weeks of tending to the eggs, he says, the mother goose will see no prospect of offspring.

“At the beginning of the nesting season, the geese will be more aggressive,” says Cygan, who has stories of a local business roping off a parking lot to contain two geese after they had rushed a man and knocked him to the pavement. “We are just trying to deter the geese away from property so they don’t try nesting there the following year.”

And if that’s not enough, Borders on Patrol has other strategies. Cygan will put one of his dogs in a kayak and venture onto Lake LaSalle to encourage the swimming geese to find another refuge. Also available is a remote-control boat with a dog head decoy that Cygan sends into geese-infested waters.

Borders on Patrol will roam throughout the North Campus until November. Cygan will change his crew’s habits and routines to keep the geese guessing. There is no doubt, he says. It’s working.

“We’ve already seen a reduction of the number,” he says. “So it’s a big difference, compared to before we got here.

“Last year when we first started, there were a lot of geese in different parking lots, hanging around. We noticed this year that wasn’t the case. Now, they’re just hanging by a water source. Even as far as the nests we have found, they’re probably down a quarter from last year.”

As for Bogey and Rory, the payoff for a job well done is pure and simple.

“They love playing fetch with a ball or Frisbee,” Cygan says. “That’s their reward. They play that nonstop.”

READER COMMENTS

Each day when I see geese on my way to the office I think people at UB must be nicer than they seem if they welcome all these geese on their grounds and let them live peacefully.

 

Are we talking here about rabid dogs attacking people in UB parking lots or about geese? Judging from the tone of this article - the former.

 

Ilona Palmer

I like seeing that a humane attempt is happening with these geese.

 

I followed a couple of ducks last year that had a nest only to discover that the eggs had been oiled and none of her eggs hatched. I see that the article says only the fertile eggs are kept safe, and from reading this I hope this is truly the case. Eggs in a supermarket sometimes float, sometimes sink, so how reliable is this theory really?

 

We have pushed ducks and every other creature out of their habitats, and watching a mother duck sit on eggs waiting for babies that never come is heartbreaking. To move the ducks on to a safer area before nests are filled is a better way to do this.

 

Gloria Piotrowski

Are you sure that the geese have not already nested and laid eggs? Causing them to move on when their habitat is being used up by human development may eventually cause some issues with their breeding habits/habitat. UB is supposed to be "green."

 

Joy James

I love those geese. Don't chase them away.

 

Robby Johnson

Good work guys. I like the use of animals over human intervention any day. I'd like to see more than two dogs if possible. Get a whole team and start the slaughter.

 

Peter North