As a cat might, Will angles his head downward, hunches his shoulders and holds his tail ever-so-slightly above the ground.
The border collie’s eyes remain riveted on the 10-pound white and grey bird grazing 10 metres ahead of him. His two black, floppy ears stiffen and strain to hear the two words he knows will set him free.
“Walk-up,” his handler commands. A short shrill from her whistle provides Will with permission to pursue his target.
Running in a route similar to the outline of a pear, his eyes look slightly ahead of the group of Canadian geese he is homing in on. Anticipating the canine’s trajectory, the flock flees.
Such is the day in the life of the City of Toronto’s hairiest employee.
Both Will and his human companion, City of Toronto parks supervisor Carol Guy, are behind a city-wide effort to keep city beaches and other public areas geese-free.
In 1998, the city employed its first border collie, Lucie. Guy has been at the helm of the program ever since. “Having a four-legged co-worker changed my entire life,” she said.
Under her supervision, a canine combo consisting of Will and his younger co-worker, Hank, patrol more than 160 km of Toronto’s waterfront to find, chase and herd geese in water and on land.
While Toronto’s native Canada goose population is manageable, it’s the visiting in-laws who are a problem. During the summer, migrant geese cause Toronto’s resident goose population (around 1,500) to double.
Blame the city’s proximity to water. It’s a location the fine-feathered travellers consider too convenient to pass up.
“Geese from as far as Virginia come to Toronto to molt,” said Danny Moro, project manager with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). “They lose flight feathers during June and the beach is the perfect area for a flightless bird to escape danger.”
Marie Curtis and Sunnyside Park are currently two locations on the TRCA’s radar.
“When these birds come to visit it has a huge impact,” added Moro. “Grazing, destroying grass, pooping everywhere, combined with losing their feathers, leaves a huge mess.”
Border collie deterrence is just one method in a five-pronged approach to waterfowl management operated through a City of Toronto and TRCA partnership.
Others include oiling eggs to sterilize them and relocating excess birds to a goose camp outside the city. But one of the most efficient practices is to simply stop feeding the birds, Guy said.
“People are the problem, really, not the waterfowl,” she said, adding that feeding geese bread or food scraps can make them unhealthy. “Wildlife can manage without them.”