On a mild August morning, a silver van with a kayak strapped to the roof crept along the concrete walkway at the North Shore Riverfront Park. A passerby who stopped to take photos spotted the van and laughed when she saw the name emblazoned on its side.
“Geese Police,” the woman said to her friend. “Who knew that was a thing?”
Driving the van, Brandon Bowers laughed. “You know now,” he shouted.
In the backseat, Mickey, a trained Geese Police border collie, sat quietly, his eyes on Bowers, waiting to be let loose to sic Canada geese that overrun parts of Pittsburgh’s shoreline.
Every Canada goose in Pennsylvania produces more than a pound of waste per day and the population is growing every year. Geese are attracted to green areas near water; sometimes, hundreds will flock to the same location. That’s a lot of waste underfoot. It’s illegal to kill the birds, so if you’re looking to keep the geese off your property, what can one do?
Bowers, who owns the Western Pennsylvania franchise of the Geese Police, has an answer. For a fee, a Geese Police employee/border collie team will chase geese away from your property. The geese always come back. But so do the Police.
“It’s a control business. We don’t ever guarantee you’ll never see birds again,” Bowers says. “My personal goal is for them not to see birds. It’s not realistic, but a lot of business owners have to have goals that aren’t necessarily realistic. It’s what drives the business forward.”
Geese are such a problem on the riverfront that Bowers visits three or four times a day. When there’s a large group on the water, he’ll pull the kayak down off the roof of the van and paddle across the river with Mickey sitting in front. The birds are almost impossible to distinguish physically, but Bowers has learned how to tell through behavior if a group has received a visit from the geese police before.
“If they’re birds that we’ve worked before, as soon as they see the truck, they sit up in the water because they know what’s coming. They twitch side to side, start clucking and all that,” Bowers said.
He pulled into the parking lot of his next stop, a small Baptist church outside the city, and Mickey perked up in the backseat. Bowers knew instantly he has gotten lucky. The four geese sitting on the church’s lawn, on the other hand, had no idea what was about to happen.
Bowers opened the van door and Mickey moved silently across the lawn in a black-and-white blur. He hit the geese with the not-so-secret weapon that makes border collies such excellent herding dogs — the “eye,” a threatening, predatory stare. Squawking in terror, the geese made the quick, easy decision that they’d rather be somewhere else and took off. Mickey ran back to Bowers, who rewarded him with a few hard pats. “What a good boy,” he said.
Bowers took over the Geese Police of Western Pennsylvania in 2008. (Tragically, the previous owner of the franchise drowned on the job.) Bowers’ father trained hunting dogs and Bowers was interested in the business and the idea of working with dogs. Now he has a kennel at his home, with three or four working border collies at a time.
Of course, the relationship has to stay professional: The dogs need to know Bowers is in charge.
“I love them and I pet them and I have affection for them, but I’m alpha first,” he said. “[But] I can’t imagine my life without dogs in it.”