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Border collies focus on geese problem

Amy Orr, dog handler with Geese Police of Loudoun County, stands with Maya, a 5-year-old border collie. Maya and possibly more border collies will be working at Jim Barnett Park in Winchester over the next two weeks to help rid Wilkins Lake of the geese that have settled there. Katie Demeria/Daily

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By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER -- Maya was just a head, bobbing up and down in the water, eyes locked on the geese.

Trainer Cathy Benedict circled the lake with her, calling out commands and slamming an empty jug against the water to help Maya corner the birds. Handler Amy Orr watched the work.

"You can hear them talking now," Orr said of the honking geese. "They're getting agitated."

Maya was able to scare several geese out of the water, watching them take flight, but many returned to the water. That was expected, though, according to Benedict and Orr -- they will come back and continue the effort over the next two weeks, probably with more dogs.

Geese Police of Loudoun County visited Jim Barnett Park's Wilkins Lake Thursday afternoon to begin an effort to rid the area of unwelcome geese.

According to a news release, the geese have been a nuisance. The release noted that the geese are "aggressive and dirty."

Sally Coates, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the birds are a "great concern."

"They are extremely aggressive, especially when they're protecting their nests," Coates said. "They intimidate visitors and staff."

That is why Maya was called out to help.

Benedict said the dogs usually work in six-week programs, but they will only be at the park for two weeks due to budget restrictions. But the bureau and the city's Parks and Recreation Department may see the benefit of getting rid of the geese humanely, she added, so money might be set aside for the project next year.

The work is humane as well, Benedict added. The border collies are taught never to touch the geese -- even if dogs come across a nest they will only lay down and bark. They also stay well away from ducks, focusing only on geese.

"They're trained not to hurt the birds or any wildlife, even rabbits or squirrels they come across," Benedict said.

Maya and the two other dogs used by Geese Police are highly trained. Benedict said Maya had some impulse control issues when she first arrived, but since then has learned to listen well.

"All she wants to do is please you," Benedict said.

Border collies are working dogs, Benedict and Orr pointed out. They only make good pets if they are constantly exercised, through activities like agility or herding, they said.

"They're full of energy. She's not even panting, and she was in there swimming for a while," Orr said of Maya after she got out of the water.

Not only was Maya not exhausted, she was itching to get back in the water, Benedict said, pointing out that she was shaking with anticipation when she caught sight of a goose.

"They never don't want to go to work," Benedict said.

To learn more about Geese Police, visit http://www.geesepoliceloudoun.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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