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Geese Police Jane Ashbrook Southworth '63 and Her Goose Dog Bess to Address Campus Goose Problem

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

April 12, 2002

Geese Police Jane Ashbrook Southworth '63 and Her Goose Dog Bess to Address Campus Goose Problem

Photo: Janet Tobin

Jane Ashbrook Southworth '63, with Bess, her faithful friend and business partner

Fifty years ago, the Canada goose, a bird with distinctive white cheek-patches and a black head and neck, was facing extinction due to relentless hunting and habitat loss. Efforts begun in the 1950s by environmentalists resulted in the restoration of the Canada goose populations—now there seems to be too much of a good thing. The Canada goose is currently the most abundant North American goose, occurring in every state and province sometime during the year. The species breeds from Labrador to Alaska, south to California, and eastward to Georgia. In winter, Canada geese may be found from southeastern Alaska to Hawaii and Mexico, and from Massachusetts to Florida. It is estimated that there are more than 3 million Canada geese, and that the species' southern breeding range continues to expand. About one hundred of these geese have been posing safety and health problems and simply making pests of themselves, namely through excessive goose droppings and aggression, on MHC's campus.

The College is not alone. In recent years Canada geese have become an environmental hazard in parks, golf courses, airports, and just about any place that has a manicured lawn. While there is an urgent need to deal with "the goose problem," few people want to harm the geese; they just want them to move on. Although putting up barriers and making loud sounds may help briefly, the geese soon habituate to these measures and return to their favorite habitat. The most effective and environmentally friendly way to manage the geese seems to be specially trained Border collies. "At the suggestion of the CEL, we tried putting up fishing line fences twice, and they failed," said Michael Buckley of Facilities Management, who has been charged with leading the effort to manage the geese. "That's when we hired Jane and Bess."

Jane is Jane Ashbrook Southworth '63, owner and operator of Goose Patrol of Brattleboro, Vermont, not to mention solid-waste coordinator for South Hadley's Department of Public Works (but that's another story, one that appeared in the March 22 issue of CSJ). Bess is her specially trained, six-year-old Border collie whose greatest joy is to chase, bark at, and unsettle Canada geese. The College recently hired the duo for a period of three to six weeks of "intense harassment" to get the geese to relocate from some of their favorite campus spots—Upper and Lower Lakes. After only a few hours on the job on Southworth's and Bess's first day, April 5, there was not a goose to be found on Upper and Lower Lakes. The two spent their first five to seven days "making the geese miserable" all day. They will continue their "humane goose control" measures two or three times each day for a period of weeks. In addition to having Bess, sporting a bright orange vest, chase the geese, Southworth takes her kayak out on the lakes, often with Bess in it, and scares the geese on the water. Bess does not like to swim.

Southworth, who earned an A.B. in English history from Mount Holyoke, an M.A.T. from Columbia University, and an M.A. in medieval history from Boston College, started her business about a year and a half ago after receiving, with Bess, special training in Ohio. So far, they have had success in goose-management efforts at nearby Look Park and at an office complex in Lexington, Massachusetts. Southworth notes, however, that although she and Bess may spook geese to the point that they will leave an area almost immediately once they see Bess, the geese will return eventually unless the goose dog is reintroduced frequently. Says Southworth, "I'll get rid of the geese over the next several weeks, in time for students to enjoy walking barefoot and their families to enjoy commencement, sans geese. We'll see what happens after that."

Don't Feed the Geese

Feeding waterfowl encourages them to congregate in an area and makes geese more aggressive toward people. Feeding them can lead to crowding and increased susceptibility to diseases such as avian cholera, avian botulism, and duck plague. All of these diseases have the potential to kill large numbers of geese and other waterfowl.

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