First Words

Geese, Be Gone!

By Jessica Winum

Among alumnae/i, Sunset Lake often prompts fond recollections of pastoral peace or waterlogged shenanigans. Lately, however, things have sometimes gotten ugly along the bucolic banks. Persistent Canada geese want to take up messy residence there and also lay claim to the golf course and athletic fields nearby. The geese decimate grass, ravage turf, and deposit unhealthy droppings wherever they go. It reached the point, says Jeff Horst, director of grounds, that a person could hardly take a walk around the lake, nevermind loll on its shores. Every effort to reclaim the grounds for humans failed — until Ben the border collie arrived as Vassar’s newest staff member in early September.

Ben is specially trained to chase geese from lakes, golf courses, athletic fields, and similar environments by Barbara Ligon of Seclusival Farm and Kennel in Virginia. According to Ligon, border collies are suited to the task of goose abatement because they are “absolutely addicted to herding things. They’re obsessed,” and they won’t stop until they’ve finished their job. Another plus — the dogs have a unique, inbred ability to intimidate other animals by showing “eye” and are content to herd without attempting to harm.

A compact and rather shy animal, Ben is a model of focus and determination. On one chilly fall morning, he plunged into the frigid waters of Sunset Lake at Horst’s verbal command and swam toward the frazzled gaggle of geese until they all gave up and flew away. He didn’t quit until Horst gave the command to get out of the water.

Seven months of daily goose-chasing sessions have whittled the campus goose population down to just six stubborn geese, Horst reports. Could it be that these six are protecting offspring? Horst doesn’t think so. “Our hope is that Ben has been active enough to keep any of them from nesting. But we can live with a dozen geese on campus if some happen to nest here,” he says. “Ben’s not going to disturb any goslings or their parents.” As of May, no goslings had waddled forth. Once more, thanks to Ben, students may roam the shores of Sunset Lake and find the stuff of happy memory.