Robin, my boss at the ranch, texted me out of the blue. “The cemetery wants us to do goose patrol,” she said. “Do some research.”
Over the years I’ve worked as her assistant, I have learned that it’s far better to make an attempt at whatever she wants, rather than staring at her with a blank look of dumbfounded ignorance until she gets annoyed. This one, however, had me stumped. “Goose patrol?” I sent back.
“Yes,” Robin replied. “There are businesses. Google.”
No less confused, I headed to Google, and the first result I came up with was an article about geese being used as watchdogs/alarm animals in China. I thought that must be what Robin meant, and I was baffled, but I felt it was not outside the realm of possibility. My agile mind quickly developed a scenario in which a nearby cemetery (for which we’ve provided special event sheep at Easter services) might want watch-geese to keep miscreants, vandals, and the ghosts of the restless dead at bay.
I felt that the geese we keep at the ranch were up for the job, being as they could be guaranteed to be hostile to any other nearby creature up to and including the undead. They were certainly aggressive to me, and to Jet. Whenever I went into their pen, a particularly malicious gander would come up towards me, beak open, wings spread, hissing, while I menaced it with a blue plastic bucket and yelled, “Go ahead, come at me, I WILL CUT YOU!” There’s nothing like yelling I will cut you at farm animals to make you experience a distinct moment of “Look at my life, look at my choices,” but I had bigger problems to worry about. Goose problems.
Bringing Jet into the goose pen with me was not a significant help. Some dogs love to herd birds; the first dog I trained was obsessed with them. Jet, however, is not one of these dogs. Jet can’t see the geese at all, and when he enters the goose pen his first move is to stare fixedly at the lambs in the opposite pen, creeping closer and entertaining border collie fantasies in which he captures them all in one big group and moves them from place to place! This fixation on the sheep means he’s totally oblivious to the ferocious geese, and it came as a great shock to him when a goose was suddenly all up on him snapping at his fur and honking. “Get in there!” I yelled, which is the herding command for “Show the livestock that you are the one with the pointy teeth.” It is without a doubt Jet’s favorite command, and dog and goose dissolved into a chaos of snapping, honking, and bits of feathers wafting through the air in a gentle manner totally incongruent with the general atmosphere of havoc. Jet won, but the whole thing could have been avoided if he’d just herd the damn geese properly to begin with.
So I felt confident in our Patrol Geese having an acceptable level of viciousness, but other than the article on the Chinese watch-geese, I couldn’t find anything else that matched my mental image of what Goose Patrol is. Eventually I had to admit defeat.
“I can’t find anything,” I texted Robin back. “All the businesses are for dogs chasing geese away from properties, not for geese on patrol.”
“That’s what I want!” she returned. “Dogs getting rid of them! Chasing them! GOOSE PATROL!”
So it turned out that the cemetery did not, in fact, wish to employ our violent waterfowl. Instead, they had a problem with Canada geese fouling the grounds and headstones, and needed dogs to come and chase the geese away. Canada geese are a protected species you can’t shoot or harm, so dogs make a great non-violent solution for harassing them into homing elsewhere. I did some research for Robin, correctly this time, and she took the job with great success. About two weeks into harassing the geese with her dogs, there was nary a goose to be found at the cemetery. The grounds keepers are thrilled, and I suspect the ghosts of the restless dead appreciate not being shat upon.
Flush with success, Robin started investigating another similar job at a country club and golf course. The problem here, however, was that a large man-made creek and lake ran through the course, and Robin’s dogs were unwilling to jump off the large boulders straight into the creek to swim towards the water birds (ducks in this case) gathered there in smug safety. She has three dogs, and all of them were presenting difficulty: Batman wanted to get the ducks, but was unwilling to jump into the obviously deadly water. Ace seemed more or less okay with the water, but was blind to the birds and totally confused about what any of us were doing in this obviously sheepless desert. Lass both wanted the ducks and was willing to swim with them, but as she is ancient and having heart trouble, sending her into a deep, cold creek in the middle of December just didn’t seem like a good idea.
“Bring Jet,” Robin suggested last week, “We have to try. Maybe he’ll do it.” Jet’s mother Sleet retired from herding to become a wonderful golf course dog totally willing to fly into ponds and descend upon waterfowl like a vengeful black and white nightmare of predatory prowess, and he’s a lot like her, so I thought it was worth a shot. There would be no sheep there to distract him, and judging by what an idiot he is to my chickens, I figured he could see the birds. I was all ready for Jet to fly in there like the shining star of bird abatement, leaving pride and feathery pandemonium in his wake.
Jet, of course, had other ideas. I was right in that he enjoyed chasing the ducks, but once we got to the water’s edge, he stood peering down at the dark depths and forgot about the birds in the apparent contemplation of his own mortality.
“Go get them,” I encouraged. “Get in there!”
Jet wagged his tail uncertainly and whined. But I might die!
It was shallow at that point, so I gave him a nudge, and sploosh, he went into the creek. “Go on, get them!”
Jet forgot all about the ducks in his all-absorbing need to flounder OUT of the creek as quickly as possible. I WILL DEFINITELY DIE!
Not to be deterred, I took him to a shallow part of the creek, confidently wading in my plaid rubber LL Bean boots, and called him to me. “Jet, that’ll do!”
Jet assessed. It was shallow. Okay. He sensed a trap, but he came.
Encouraged, I went a little deeper. A little too deep, and let me tell you, there is no feeling worse than creek water flooding over the tops of your plaid rubber LL Bean boots and directly into your wool socks. Whatever, too late now. “That’ll do,” I called Jet, and once again, he came.
At this point my socks were wet, my boots were full of water, my jeans were soaked from mid-calf down, and I thought, in for a penny, in for a pound, right? I took off the boots and wet socks, rolled up my pants, and started wading into the creek knee deep while Robin gaped and said, “Are you crazy?” from the shore. “It’s fine,” I said, “I’m already wet, and it stays pretty shallow!” I could see the bottom, but it would be deep enough to force Jet to swim! Perfect! And then once he learned swimming does not necessarily equal tragic death by drowning and immediate trajectory to border collie afterlife, he would get the ducks! FLAWLESS PLAN!
What I failed to account for is that this is not a creek made for wading in. This is not a natural creek with supportive stones washing down its course from some higher elevation. This is a man made creek bottomed entirely with dead leaves, silty soil, and metric tons of bird shit. I started walking into the creek, I started calling my dog, and it sounded something like “That’llaaaAAHHH!” as the creek bottom gave out from under me and I sank in the cold, bird-fouled water all the way up to my crotch. Remember that part where nothing’s worse than creek water in your boots? Creek water in your underwear is worse. It was horrible and disgusting. I haven’t heard Robin laugh so hard since the last time I electrocuted myself on the hot-wire sheep fence. “That’ll do,” I sullenly called my dog. “I’m in the creek! I am IN THE CREEK! You have no excuse!”
To his credit, Jet gave me a look like Now we will both die, but for you, I will try it, and he did swim out to me. Unfortunately, putting up with my clearly unreasonable demands to swim back and forth across the creek was only something he was willing to do as long as I was there doing it as well, and once I was standing on the shore, barefoot and dripping and helpfully pointing at the god damn smug, happy ducks, he went back to resolutely perching on the shore, nope nope nope, patiently waiting for his dense human to understand that there is no possible way he could physically approach those birds.
I had to give up on Jet’s career as a Goose Patrol dog for the day. I had no change of clothes. Defeated and losing the light, I had to walk back out of the golf course barefoot and sopping wet and smelling pungently of duck excrement. It’s a fancy golf course. The golfers stared at me, clearly reassessing their country club membership, while I just held my head high like yeah, you might be the country club, but this is how we do it in the COUNTRY.
It was cold and wet and disgusting and if you are considering training your dog to jump in creeks, I do not recommend this method. I think that I can eventually get him there by training him to jump off swimming pool edges and join me for a swim, but that’s a warm summer project. For now, we will stick to sheep, we will stick to firm, dry land, and we’ll leave Goose Patrol to the experts.