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Border Collies May Chase the Geese Away

The Humane Commission has made a unanimous recommendation to the mayor’s office to use specially trained border collies to try and rid the city’s parks of troublesome geese.

Chris Santopietro, the owner of the Greenwich-based company Geese Relief, last week pitched to the commission his services, which would involve using dogs to “herd” geese away and slowing the population by addling their eggs. The work will cost at least $50,000 for one year.

Diane Smith, chairwoman of the commission, said that based on counts by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, there are around 500 geese that call the city home. The droppings can damage fields and be a hazard to humans since salmonella and e-coli are present.

Bill DeMaio, the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said that over the last several years, several methods have been tried and yielded little success: growing the grass long, putting fences near the ponds, broadcasting hawk sounds over speakers, installing coyote statutes, and shooting off bottle rockets.

“The only way I have found success are dogs,” DeMaio said.

Santopietro, whose company has been in business for 16 years and has worked on 1,000-acre farms in New York and celebrity homes along Long Island Sound, said border collies make more of an impact because they get low to the ground and “mesmerize” their prey like a coyote. The dogs do not harm the geese but are used as a way to instill danger in the birds.

“What we do is not a walk in the park with your dog,” Santopietro said. “They’re there to work.”

If the city selected his company, trained handlers would visit the city’s five parks twice a day, six days a week, for three months. Workers would use the dogs to stalk the geese, who will likely take refuge in the ponds. Workers will then get in kayaks and chase the geese from one end to the other in an effort to make the park an “undesirable” location, Santopietro said.

“The hope is that they find open space. I have been doing this for 16 years and they always seem to find a place,” Santopietro said.

The combination of short grass and food from humans, along with large ponds that act as refuge from danger, and few predators has made the city’s parks appealing homes for the geese. “You have goose heaven in these parks,” Santopietro said.

To the groans of a few animal lovers in the crowd, Santopietro said in addition to working with the dogs, they also go after the eggs, though they can’t be more than 14 days old. Addling the eggs can involve piercing the shell to kill the embryo and placing the egg back in the nest. The practice is approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“If you want to control your geese so humans can use your ball fields without stepping in goose droppings,” Santopietro said. “You’re going to have to stop the population from increasing.”

Santopietro acknowledged that it might be difficult for the city to spend $50,000, but said if other area towns also contracted out his services it would bring the pricing down. He said his biggest clients are corporate parks.

Other methods discussed included having neighbors use radio-controlled cars and boats to chase the geese, having offenders pick up goose droppings as a form of community service, or purchasing a robotic device for around $3,500 called the “Goosinator.”

There was some discussion about possibly charging athletic associations and other community groups for using the fields and parks to defray some of the cost, but the idea was thwarted with officials citing residents already struggling to pay for expenses. Killing the geese and donating them to local homeless shelters was also briefly discussed.