Daisy and Lola, both proud City of Cambridge employees, were on the job at the bustling Fresh Pond Golf Course on a recent Wednesday, proof of their dogged attention to detail showing across every inch of the green and tidy nine holes.
Despite the course’s proximity to the Fresh Pond reservoir, and a handful of holes dotted with inviting water hazards, the 54-acre tract is virtually free of pesky, ever-invasive Canada geese. The brazen, mess-making fowl that for decades have been the No. 1 pain-in-the-patootie of golf course superintendents throughout New England find no safe refuge at the Fresh Pond course.
All the credit goes to Daisy and Lola, black-and-white border collies specifically trained to keep the geese from even thinking of turning into land-squatting, entitled Cantabrigians. Daisy, now 18 years old and semi-retired, kept the grounds goose-free by herself for about 15 years. Three-year-old Lola, obtained by the city two years ago for $4,000, has picked up where dame Daisy left off, torpedoing around the acreage on command of course superintendent Patrick Folan and keeping fairways and greens pristine.
“Geese are very smart, extremely smart, and we’ve found the border collies really are the best way to control them,’’ said Folan, the Fresh Pond super for the last four years. “All you want to do is agitate them, make them uncomfortable, get them to go somewhere else. They see these black-and-white demons running around out here, that’s enough — they’re out of here.’’
Daisy is not so fast anymore. In fact, she is dial-up compared with Lola’s full-bore wireless, tireless modem. But the old girl returns to the workforce sporadically, and at her ambling leisure, when former Fresh Pond super Dave Webster, now her caretaker, drops her off to get some exercise.
The course is really Lola’s domain alone, and she works it with a border collie’s near-maniacal pluck and feistiness, trained to react to Folan’s hunting command of “Shh . . . shh . . . shh.’’ It’s that call that instantly sends her sprinting, head lowered slightly, eyes and nose in pursuit of only one thing: geese.
“She is lightning fast,’’ said Folan, who begins his days just before 5 a.m., with Lola at his side as he inspects each hole. “When they bred border collies, they [bred] the perfect working dogs. She is a constant worker and she is super fast.
“When I give her the command, that’s when she really turns it into fifth gear and keeps going.’’
Golfers, noted Folan, pay a lot of money to enjoy their leisure time, and the last thing anyone wants is to have cleats, socks, trousers, balls, clubheads, and even fingertips mucked up by the blanket of feces that is a flock’s calling card.
The golf industry has used all manner of non-canine methods, including such tools as hand-held lasers, fake coyotes, firecrackers, remote-control boats, and more to hector the geese over the years. But it’s man’s best friend — most often hard-working, task-driven border collies such as Daisy and Lola — that has taken best in show when it comes to showing them the door.
“Dogs appear to be the most effective way to move geese off your property,’’ said Don Hearn, associate manager of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of New England. “I can’t give you an exact number how many, but a number of courses do quite well with them.’’
Yet change could be in the air, literally. Of late, noted Hearn, he has heard the possibility of drones being considered for the goose chase. If so, the likes of Daisy and Lola could be forced to look for greener pastures.
“I’ve heard about the possibility of drones,’’ said Matt Crowther, superintendent of Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven the last 20 years. “It might be a good idea, could work, but you’d better be a damned good flier. If you’ve got an $800,000 drone and a goose crashes the thing, I think you’re going to be pretty desperate.’’