Niagara Gazette

March 24, 2014

Local golf course using border collies to tackle geese problem

By Michael Regan michael.regan@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — For years, Deerwood Golf Course has been riddled with Canada geese, a species once endangered but now rebounding, and drawn to the 15 ponds tucked amid the sweeping green space located along Sweeney Street near the Erie Canal. 

About 200 to 300 geese are estimated to have set up homes on the 27-hole course, causing hold-ups and a general mess for maintenance employees charged with picking up droppings on fairways and around the animals’ nests. 

Keith Miranto, Deerwood director, said they tried cut-out coyotes and an employees’ family dog to chase the geese away. Nothing worked. 

Then a call came in from Mayor Rob Ortt this winter, Miranto said, and the message was simple: Solve the problem. 

Miranto said he reached out to a supervisor at Sheridan Golf Course in Tonawanda, where three border collies were purchased by the town more than a decade ago to scare away the feathered fowl. 

“He said, ‘that was 10 years ago and we don’t have as much as a goose feather on my golf course,’” Miranto recalled. “Doing nothing was not an option.” 

But with no room in the budget for the purchase and care of dogs and few other working options, Miranto found Craig Cygan, a retired Secret Service agent who returned to his Western New York roots from Washington, D.C. 

In 2007, on a whim, he started Borders on Patrol out of the Town of Boston, utilizing his three dogs across Western New York, to rid largely open spaces of geese, seagulls and sometimes deer.  

Cygan has now visited Deerwood twice a day for the last several weeks and will continue to do so until the geese-nesting season ends in May.

Cygan said he’s heard the grievances from golf course supervisors, college administrators and corporate property managers, who have tried coating goose eggs in oil, installing laser lights and a volley of other tactics in attempts to discourage nesting and send the large and sometimes aggressive birds packing. 

And while those techniques work for a while, and sometime not at all, Cygan said border collies’ natural instinct to corral the geese, causes them to move on to greener pastures. 

“I’ve seen everything,” Cygan said. “The problem is the geese get used to these methods and eventually return. If they realize they’re being stalked they get scared and move on.” 

On Thursday, Cygan’s oldest border collie, Gracie, put on display at Deerwood, responding to a combination of verbal commands and hand motions and speeding over the mostly melted snow that has consumed the course for the last several months. 

“Once they learn a task they never forget it,” he said, adding that his year-round job covers 20 different contracts mostly in Erie County. 

Miranto said he is hopeful the new venture will dissuade the geese from nesting on the course, which draws about $1 million in revenue each year along with 59,000 rounds of golf. City officials are pushing to open the course by early April. 

“We’re in competition with a lot of other golf courses,” Miranto said. “And we’re trying to encourage people to play their golf here.”