Thomas Drummond peered through the lobby door at the gray sky and the slick walkway winding through the parking lot outside of his Drummond Software Solutions (DSS) headquarters in Guttersburg, Maryland. He couldn’t tell how much of the reflection off the pavement was water and how much was ice, but he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to get to his appointment. He always dreaded the dangers that awaited him just beyond the lobby during the savage spring. This was the most treacherous time of the year, late March.
It was still cold enough at times to encounter a thin layer of ice on the pavement in the early morning or at night, but it was often warm enough during the heat of the day to spark a change in the air. For many, spring meant an awakening as the flowers started to bloom and wildlife cycles began anew. While beautiful from a distance, sometimes that awakening could get just a little too close, which made spring more dangerous than winter, at least some of the time.
His company was located on a sprawling, 100-acre campus on the outskirts of Guttersburg, with easy access to the freeway as well as the village’s amenities. The campus not only housed four gleaming office buildings packed with the latest technology for developing truly revolutionary software solutions, it was surrounded by beautifully appointed athletic fields and a copse of loblolly pines adjacent to a small lake behind the fields. The trees and lake housed an abundant assortment of wildlife.
The parking lots were sprinkled with trees as well, mostly flowering dogwood and white elm trees, valued for the shade they provided for most of three seasons of the year. Alas, they also enticed some of the wildlife surrounding the lake to venture forth.
Thomas edged out of the lobby door onto the walkway. He walked at a good clip toward his car. That morning it had been calm when he arrived at the office, but in the late afternoon and early evening, things could change. He thought he was safe until he caught some movement out of the corner of his eye just as he rounded the end of the aisle near his car.
He started running. His car door was just out of his reach when a large, male Canadian goose flew over the hood at him. He tried to deflect the beast with his umbrella, but he lost his footing and fell backward. He dropped his laptop bag and tried to break his fall with his free hand, but he slipped and heard a crack on impact with the ground. To make matters worse, the goose bit him until he was finally able to fend it off by madly swinging his umbrella with his left hand.
Lying on his back on the ice next to his car, writhing in pain and swearing in his head, Thomas wondered how he could stop this from happening again.
He couldn’t move his right arm, so he rolled onto his left side and tried to push himself to a sitting position with his left hand. He kept slipping until he pushed himself up against the driver’s side front wheel of his car. He had to get to the hospital, but he didn’t think he could drive himself there. He fumbled for his cell phone in his front, left, pants pocket and called 911. He then waited on the ground for the ambulance to arrive thinking about how to get rid of the geese without breaking any laws.
Thomas spent the night in the ER as the staff immobilized his arm, and the doctor determined that he wouldn’t need surgery, although his right ulna and humerus had been cracked in the fall. Fortunately they were not broken all the way through. The ER finally released him in the wee hours of the morning just as the sun was beginning to rise. He called his assistant, Dane, to come pick him up and take him home.
Thomas stayed at home for the next few days consumed by his thoughts about how to fix his company’s goose problem, and he spent a lot of time with his pet Border Collie, Dot. Dot was a very industrious dog, but she got into trouble when she didn’t have well-defined jobs to do. She herded things. All things. When she was stuck in the house, Dot would herd the kitchen chairs into a circle near the table. She would also jump into the laundry hamper, pull out all of the clothes, and sort them to her liking on the floor. Thomas watched to see what Dot would do for a while, but after seeing how much work she was making for him, he put her out into the backyard for a bit.
When left on her own in the spacious backyard, Dot would herd the squirrels, and the birds, and any cats that wandered into her territory. As Thomas watched Dot keep the critters in line, he got an idea. He did a little online research, typing with one hand, and he found Joyce Spencer, a local trainer who specialized in herding dogs, and he arranged to meet with her. It turned out that Joyce had several Border Collies of her own, and they were all trained herding dogs. After a bit of discussion about the work ethic of Border Collies and the problems with the geese at work, Thomas and Joyce struck a deal, pending a demonstration once Thomas got back to the office.
Several days later, Thomas was finally able to return to his office, dependent on Dane for transportation for the next few weeks until he could drive again. He was brimming with excitement as he waited for his meeting later that morning. He was planning to roll out his solution for taming the parking lot. Though he was the first spring casualty that year, this had been an ongoing problem every spring for quite some time. The danger started in late March and continued through early June when the last of the geese finally moved out of the parking lot.
Although the geese no longer migrated away from Guttersburg, having found plentiful food and shelter year-around, they weren’t in the parking lot all year. They stayed near the forest, closer to the lake most of the year, except for that savage period when several goose couples nested under some of the choice trees in the parking lot. It seemed as though the geese knew they were a protected species, and they had no fear of the humans nearby. In fact, from all appearances, the geese seemed to enjoy striking terror into anyone coming within 20 feet of their nests, even accidentally.
Everyone who worked at DSS had gotten into the habit of parking further from the trees when the geese were there. They edged back to the shade once the goslings hatched, and the geese moved closer to the lake. Plant protection had tried moving the nests away from the parking lot in years past, but several workers were injured by dogged geese defending their territory. Eventually the guards stopped trying to redistribute the birds.
At 10:00 a.m. on the Wednesday that Thomas returned to the office, Joyce entered the DSS lobby along with Ricki, her newly trained, eight-month-old, Border Collie puppy. Thomas and Dane were there to greet them. The four of them made their way from the lobby to the long, glass-enclosed breezeway from which the lake and loblolly pine copse were visible. While there were two or three nests in the parking lot, there were far more scattered throughout the trees near the lake. Joyce nodded, and looked down at Ricki. Ricki’s ears were raised, and she was staring at one particular concentration of geese by the lake.
They continued down the breezeway and through the cafeteria to the rear door. They walked across the terrace and down the stairs to the meadow approaching the lake. At that point, Joyce took off the lead and whistled several sharp tones.
Ricki raced toward the nearest group of geese. She nipped at them as she circled, edging them toward the lake. After they were well on their way, she added the next group, and before long, all of the geese in sight were down by the lake in a fairly compact group. While the display didn’t yet address the parking lot, it served as a powerful demonstration of Ricki’s herding ability.
Thomas and Dane were very impressed, and Joyce described in great detail what a dog like Ricki could do for them. She noted that it was still early enough in the spring that although the nests were being built, there weren’t any eggs yet. That didn’t stop the geese from defending them, but it gave DSS an opening to possibly move the nests if they could get the geese out of them soon enough.
Thomas and Dane were sold on the idea of adding a herding dog to the staff, but Thomas wondered if it might be possible for his dog, Dot, to be trained to do this job. He sometimes brought her to work with him, one of the perks of owning the company, and after spending a week at home watching her antics during the day, he had a new appreciation for her work ethic.
“Would it be possible to train my Border Collie, Dot, to take this on?” Thomas asked.
“I would have to see how trainable she might be, but it may be feasible,” Joyce answered. “Is she obedience trained?”
“Actually, she is,” Thomas answered, “although she still gets into a bit of mischief when she’s bored.”
Joyce smiled. “Trust me, if you let me train her to take on the geese, she wouldn’t have time to be bored,” she said. “If she’s quick, she could be trained in as little as three weeks, and from what you described when we first talked, it sounds like her herding instinct is pretty strong. The trick will be to get her to recognize the geese, and possibly ducks, as her charges.”
Thomas looked over at Dane, and then back at Joyce.
“How about this,” Joyce said. After describing her training methodology for Dane’s benefit, she continued, “Dot would also need a handler when she was working. This would be necessary in part for Dot’s safety, as well as for the safety of your company’s employees and any customers who happened to be on site. Since part of the problem is getting the geese out of the parking lot, that means setting aside some times when traffic would be halted to allow Dot to herd the geese from the parking lot to the lake. Once the lot was cleared, then maintaining the boundary around the lake would be a lot simpler.”
Thomas thought this over for a moment and asked, “When could you start training Dot?”
“Would this weekend work for you?” Joyce asked.
“Absolutely, the sooner the better,” Thomas answered. “Starting on the weekend makes sense. There would be fewer people around to get in the way, and we could close off the main parking lot to allow you to train her on site.”
“Perfect,” said Joyce, “although you may not want to wait until Dot is trained to start the process. I can let you borrow Ricki until Dot is trained. Since Ricki has already started the herding process with the geese behind the buildings, we might as well let her maintain what she started and have Dot pick up the front side and parking lots as she hones her skills.”
They went over the details, times, and agreed to bring Ricki on site daily starting first thing the next morning. Since it was only two days until the weekend, Ricki could at least keep the geese behind the buildings from moving forward and staking out any more territory in the parking lots. Thomas would bring Dot to campus Saturday morning at sunrise to have Joyce begin her training.
Dot was a quick study, and rather than needing three weeks, she was essentially trained the first weekend, though she needed some concentrated coaching along the way. She focused on the parking lot to clear out the geese and pushed them back toward Ricki who herded them past the loblolly pine copse toward the lake. At the end of that first weekend, the parking lot was cleared, and Dot was vigorous enough in her defense of the lot to keep the geese from coming back.
Dot loved her work. She barked happily as she ran rings around the geese as she herded them toward Ricki. During moments of calm, she laid in the grass near the trees ever watchful. Thomas and Dot arrived each day at sunup, and Dot worked from sunup to sundown. At sundown, she was brought to Thomas’ office to go home with him for the night whenever he left the office.
After the first week, Ricki was no longer needed as Dot could cover both the parking areas in front of the buildings as well as the areas approaching the lake.
For the next few weeks, Dot would start each new day getting any stray geese out of the parking lot at sunup, and back to the lake. For the bulk of her shift, she’d continually herd the geese close to the lake, so they wouldn’t get back to parking lot. After a month, Dot’s efforts trained the geese to stay clear of the parking lot.
Since the campus guards were available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, additional dog care duties were added to their responsibilities, and Joyce, or one of her trainers, were contracted to both keep Dot on target, and to train a number of the guards as handlers so they would have at least one handler-trained guard on every shift. Joyce was also to provide another herding dog if Dot was unavailable for more than a day.
When Thomas and Joyce first set up the contract, they thought that they would only need Dot’s concentrated services during the spring, but because the geese didn’t migrate, they decided to keep her around all year to reinforce good goose behavior, though after the spring mating season, they could back off and only have her “on duty” a few hours a day, from late June through February.
After that first spring, Dot had effectively cleared the parking lot and could stay mostly on the lake side of the property. She wasn’t a big dog, but she was an effective herder, and the geese learned not to challenge her. Her presence on campus also sparked friendly discussion amongst the staff. During some of Dot’s breaks, employees on break would sometimes venture down to see her. She had even been known to occasionally join an employee soccer game from time to time in the late afternoons or early evenings when the leagues were in session.
Thomas gained notoriety in town for his creative and eco-friendly solution to this long-time problem, but Joyce benefitted the most from Dot’s stellar performance. Prior to working with Thomas to solve DSS’ goose problem, Joyce had supplied herding dogs to farmers and ranchers in the county. With Dot’s success, she picked up several business clients, who sought her out to train dogs for their facilities.
And Dot was by far the happiest employee at DSS. She loved her work, and she could often be seen from the breezeway, racing around the lake keeping the geese in their place.