In the ongoing battle to stop geese from polluting Nanaimo's parks with poop, Sprite the border collie is the city's secret weapon.
Every day at dawn and dusk, Sprite and her owner, dog trainer Janet Laidlaw, make the rounds of designated green spaces in the Vancouver Island city, putting the run on flocks of Canada geese that have settled down to graze or settled in for a good night's sleep.
"The geese normally have patterns, and the trick in doing this is to break up their patterns," Ms. Laidlaw said. "They'll have their morning flight, then they'll stay in a place for most of the day, unless they get sent away. And they will also move again in the evening to settle into what they consider a safe place for the night."
Hired on an experimental basis by the City of Nanaimo in 2008, Ms. Laidlaw and Sprite have been so successful at controlling the goose population city officials recently renewed her contract for a third year and added a handful of new parks to the list of regular targets.
Jim Plasteras, Nanaimo's manager of parks operations, said user groups that once complained regularly about goose feces are now calling the city to express their appreciation.
"So many people have taken the time to phone us and say how thankful they are," Mr. Plasteras said. "We're just happy it's working because we don't want anyone to have a negative experience in our parks."
Sprite, bred and trained for work as a herding dog, waits for Ms. Laidlaw's command when they arrive at a location, then sprints toward the unsuspecting geese with her head lowered, a posture the birds perceive as threatening.
"She goes right through and splits the group," Ms. Laidlaw said. "It's enough of a hunting-looking move that the geese don't hang around."
She has three other dogs who are trained to chase geese, but Ms. Laidlaw said Sprite, now seven years old, is the most efficient because of both her training and her temperament.
"She's not aggressive at all toward the geese. She's trained not to nip or bite or use her mouth," she said. "She just does her job and comes right back."
It doesn't take long for the birds to learn that Sprite means business. Geese that have been chased on previous visits, Ms. Laidlaw said, will take flight before she has time to unhook Sprite's leash, and some flocks have even learned to recognize her car.
"I was with her when we pulled up to a park once and the geese went from chowing down on the salad to sticking their necks straight up, staring at the car," Mr. Plasteras said. "It was amazing."
One of the biggest improvements Nanaimo has seen so far has been at the city's public cemetery, where the pathways, gravesites and tombstones were covered in goose feces until Ms. Laidlaw and Sprite began patrolling the area last summer, Mr. Plasteras said.
It cost the city less than $20,000 last year to employ Ms. Laidlaw, who works three to four hours a day from February through the end of November, with a break during molting season from mid-June to mid-July.
"You have to be on call all the time because the geese don't take weekends off," she said. "It's not a full-time job, but it's an all-the-time job."
Special to The Globe and Mail