Written By Sherwood Kohn
A little more than three years ago, Dan Laxton’s wife, Vivian, was working as an editor for The Gaithersburg Gazette when she called her husband’s attention to a horror story in the newspaper.
The article reported on an incident in which a homeowners’ association in Olney, Maryland, hired a contractor to rid their community of a flock of about 100 pesky geese that were fouling a local walkway. (The average goose carries a host of pathogens, including e-coli and bird flu, and, says Laxton, can deposit about 21 pounds of feces a day.)
The contractor’s solution was to round up the geese and kill them in a portable gas chamber.
Finding the proceedings highly reminiscent of the Nazi gas chambers, concerned citizens came out in protest. There was a fist fight. Things got ugly.
But there was a line in the story about a proposal by the Humane Society to use other measures for coping with the millions of non-migratory Canada geese that over the last 30 years have become a public nuisance.
It was like an epiphany for Laxton. Recently laid off from his job as as trouble shooter for the telecommunications firm, MCI, the hearty, 37-year-old Walkersville resident saw humane goose removal as an entrepreneurial opportunity. His goose removal firm, Gone in a Zip, was born.
Since then, Laxton and his two dogs, Zip and Ivy, have been in the business of keeping the goose population down in certain areas, including Westminster’s municipal pond. Because Vivian Laxton is now Carroll County’s public information administrator, her husband does the job for Westminster pro bono.
He figures that by this time, he has chased off thousands of geese from the properties he works under contract–presently a restaurant in Baltimore County, Woodsboro Community Park in Frederick County, and the grounds of Ft. Detrich and the former Ft. Ritchie– and has reduced the goose population of Westminster pond over three years from 1,000 to about nine.
And instead of killing the geese, he and his dogs, plus a remote-controlled model speedboat, simply make their hangouts inhospitable. Laxton does that (mostly at night because he finds it more effective) by directing his two border collies to chase the birds into their ponds and launching his boat at 30 mph into their midst. Needless to say, they leave.
At other times–especially in the spring–the dogs herd the geese away from their nests and Laxton laces their eggs with vegetable oil, which prevents their hatching; a method called “addling,” which he says is acceptable to PITA and the Humane Society.
It is not an easy job: Laxton has to revisit his properties about twice a week, sometimes in cold or wet weather, and protect himself against aerial bombardment by wearing a floppy hat.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I think the geese are very smart, and at other times, I think they’re very dumb. And the worst part of the job is driving back and forth. But it still beats working in an office.” – S.D.K.