Mar 15, 2024 - News

Dogs are on the front lines of Detroit's geese problem

Spot, a border collie who's about 3 years old, is one of the working dogs with Goodbye Geese. Photo: Courtesy of Gordon Ligon.

Spot, a border collie who's about 3 years old, is one of the working dogs with Goodbye Geese. Photo: Courtesy of Gordon Ligon

Three well-trained border collies named Tab, Rue and Spot are paying their rent by helping Detroit assuage its ever-worsening geese problem.

Why it matters: Geese overrun the city's parks, especially near the riverfront, leaving poop that harms water quality and makes for unpleasant experiences.

The latest: To control the pestering birds, City Council approved an $86,000 contract this month with Detroit-based Goodbye Geese through the end of 2025.

  • The city has been working with the company for more than five years.

How it works: The dog-centric method for geese control is called hazing. Working dogs pressure geese — without harming them — into leaving a property and taking flight, says Gordon Ligon, founder of Goodbye Geese with his wife, Nicole Cross.

  • Ligon's three border collies, bred for herding animals, mimic the posture and gait of a predator, such as a coyote, to simulate a threat.

State of play: Parks where dog hazing will occur this year include Palmer, Riverside, Roosevelt, Chandler and Maheras, Crystal Perkins, Detroit's general services director over parks and rec, tells Axios.

What they're saying: "Every time they're hazed by the dog activity [and lift off from a property], they're guaranteed to spend more calories and their cortisol levels will go up because of the pressure of the dog," Ligon says. "And so they're more likely to check [a site] less often and opportunistically graze it less often."

  • Goodbye Geese generally starts its season in April with removing eggs and destroying nests, and then moves to hazing.
  • But the timeline varies, as birds have started sitting on nests early this year with the mild winter.

The intrigue: A frequent Detroit park-goer may spot a collie on a paddleboard this spring with Ligon steering. Some hazing dogs swim, but in Michigan it gets so cold it can cause arthritis.

  • The riverfront parks are the most difficult to evict geese from because they can retreat to an open water source. So sometimes the dogs must take to the water.

Reality check: Hazing doesn't completely evict geese populations. But it's considered a humane method, including by PETA, Ligon says.

Behind the scenes: The dogs contribute to Ligon's household income in the North End while getting "positive feedback and satisfaction out of the work they do," he says.

  • "It's really cool to be able to work with your best friend every day. … They love being in the car, they love catching the errant french fry on the lunch break."
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