- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

SALTVILLE, Va. (AP) — Residents are putting aside their shotguns and calling in two border collies to manage a bothersome flock of Canada geese.

The town has abandoned a goose hunt that last year stirred protests by animal rights groups.

The hunt was intended to thin a gaggle of geese that began arriving in the 1980s and have multiplied since. At the time of the hunt, residents estimated that up to 400 geese called the town home.

When the geese first began to arrive, they were a welcome addition to a town searching for tourist dollars. But locals soon began to tire of the flock, which came to be known as the Saltville Navy.

The geese have fouled a park, baseball diamond and golf course where they gather. Parents have public health concerns, golfers struggled with their game and geese chased people through the parking lot at a supermarket.

But when the Town Council voted one year ago to allow hunters to fire at geese on five consecutive Saturdays, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked its members to write protest letters to the town.

Then a Northern Virginia nonprofit called GeesePeace came to town to offer other ways of dealing with the geese.

Finally, before hunters could fire a shot, someone baited the park with 100 pounds of corn.

Because it is illegal to hunt baited geese, two Saturdays of the hunt were wiped out.

“It’s a chapter of Saltville history that is best left out,” said Jeff Smith, the town manager.

Now the task has been left to Annie and Risk, the border collies.

Tom Totten brings the dogs to Saltville twice a week to run off geese. The town pays him $30 a pop for the service, he said.

When Mr. Totten arrived at the park on a recent Friday, there were only about a dozen geese swimming in one of the ponds.

When he let Annie and Risk out of their crates, the dogs circled the pond, stopped to chase a stray dog and then returned to the geese.

Within a few minutes, the geese took flight.

“They knew the dogs wouldn’t give up,” Mr. Totten said. “It just scares the daylights out of them.”

While the dogs chased the geese, Bill Keesee and Kenneth Coe fished in one of the ponds. Since the dogs started patrolling, the geese have made themselves scarce, the men said.

“As soon as he lets the dogs go, they scatter. They are gone, buddy,” Mr. Coe said.

Town officials don’t expect that border collies alone will help rid the goose problem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit to the town to addle goose eggs in 150 nests.

Assistant Police Chief Erik Puckett, who is in charge of town goose policy, said that in April or May, the town will disturb the eggs, perhaps by shaking them or covering them in vegetable oil so they won’t hatch.

Some are sad to see the goose numbers drop.

At Fred’s gas station, Teresa Barrett said she misses taking her grandchildren to feed the geese.

“As long as I can remember they have been here. They are a part of Saltville,” Miss Barrett said.

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