PEWAUKEE, Wis. – As a squadron of pests flies overhead, Susan Kinney's three employees spring into action.
Six honking Canada geese are coming in for a landing. Border collies Rocky, Gael and Meg shiver silently as they wait for Kinney's command.
Kinney says, "Get in," and the dogs sprint to the pond's edge. Rocky jumps in right away, while Gael waits a few seconds.
"Now Gael has to test the water first," Kinney says. "Meg is just sitting there looking pretty."
Rocky and Gael begin swimming toward the geese, one dog automatically taking the right flank and the other taking the left, working together as they patiently herd the geese to one end of the pond. They do not bark or whine. Only their black-and-white heads can be seen above the water, like furry periscopes drawing closer to their prey.
Within minutes, the geese decide to take flight.
Mission accomplished. Until a larger gaggle of geese flies in to an adjacent pond a few minutes later. Rocky, Gael and Meg sprint toward the new geese and do the same routine with the same result.
As they run back to Kinney and dry off in the universal canine way, Kinney does not hand out treats. Instead, she compliments her pups and scratches their ears. "The work is their reward," says Kinney, who owns the southern Wisconsin Geese Police franchise with her husband and son.
Wisconsin has a growing Canada geese problem with an estimated 119,000 taking up residence in the state, according to Brad Koele, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife damage specialist. Leaving behind copious organic deposits, honking and creating a ruckus, the geese can overtake a neighborhood.
When businesses and homeowners have had enough, they often call the Geese Police.
The national company was started in New Jersey in 1998 and now has 17 franchises in 13 states, mostly on the East Coast and Midwest. Kinney purchased the franchise for southern Wisconsin several years ago and buys Geese Police-trained dogs.
Driving an SUV, Kinney travels throughout the area from March until ponds ice up late in the year. She and her dogs are hired by the week and return as many as three times a day to locations for as long as it takes to safely scare away geese. Painted on the side of her vehicle is "Got Geese? Call us to … Get the Flock Out."
Kinney's customers include schools, municipalities, cemeteries and homeowners sick of cleaning up after geese that produce as much as a pound and a half of excrement daily.
The City of Beloit, located about 70 miles southwest of Milwaukee, hired Geese Police three years ago after trying unsuccessfully with cardboard cutouts and other ways to discourage geese from hanging out in the city's public golf course and parks alongside a river. Nothing worked until Kinney and her dogs were hired.
"We're very impressed with what they do for us," said Brian Ramsey, Beloit director of parks and leisure services. "We still have geese, I'm not saying we don't. But not the enormous numbers we once did. We probably reduced our geese by about 90 percent."
The Hawksnest Homeowners Association in Pewaukee, a Milwaukee suburb, tried another business that used remote-controlled boats, but the geese always came back, said Tim Frank, who is in charge of grounds for the association.
Flocks of 40 to 50 birds had taken up residence in the subdivision's two ponds, and it was difficult for residents to walk their dogs or allow their children to play outside without encountering birds that can be aggressive when they are nesting.
Then the association hired Geese Police.
"It really cleaned up our streets. I did not believe this would work, but I'm completely shocked. It's pretty impressive," Frank said.
The absence of predators in Wisconsin is partly the problem. In addition, Canada geese are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, meaning they cannot be harmed outside of hunting seasons. That's what makes Geese Police effective — the dogs don't touch the birds, but they make it clear it's time to shove off.
Geese Police was started in 1996 in New Jersey by David Marcks, who franchised his business two years later as the demand for his dogs skyrocketed.
Franchisees such as Kinney pay a fee for dogs and training and the right to use the Geese Police name. It can cost $30,000 to $35,000 for a franchise plus 6 percent of gross profits paid annually to Geese Police, Marcks said.
All border collies are trained at Geese Police academies in New Jersey.
Franchisees pay an upfront fee for two trained dogs, two weeks of training with their dogs in New Jersey and two weeks of training by Geese Police officials back in the franchisees' home states.
"All we're doing is replacing on your property what's missing — a natural predator," said Marcks, adding that geese move elsewhere to find suitable habitat. "I can fix your problem. I can't fix Wisconsin's problem."
Border collies are used because they are the only breed that effectively scares away geese, Marcks said.
"Border collies are the smartest dogs. Their chase behavior is based on stalking," said Marcks. "Unlike a lab or retriever, they don't need the gratification of grabbing the animal and bringing it back to you."