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The early dog catches the bird

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Thomas Finnelly and his dog Jerry look for geese on the Parrington lawn Tuesday. For the past two years, Tom and Jerry have been helping keep the geese off UW lawns.

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Jerry, a German shorthair, and his owner Thomas Finnelly have been volunteering four to five days a week to do geese patrols on the UW campus. Jerry doesn’t need a leash, because he is a command dog.

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Jerry the dog stops to search the grounds of Parrington lawn for geese.

Tom Finnelly and his dog Jerry have been on volunteer goose patrol for the University of Washington for the past two years, chasing away Seattle’s bird-poop problem, goose by goose.

You may have seen them on your way to class or around Starbucks on the Ave. Jerry has been spotted on the corner of the sidewalk next to car and pedestrian traffic, waiting patiently for his owner as he gets water for their daily goose patrol.

The 8-year-old German shorthaired pointer is all business when he’s working. Finnelly points for just a moment before Jerry bolts after whatever fowl has caught his attention to scare it away.

Tom is a retired lawyer who lives close to the U-District. He is always nearby, ready with a bag full of dog treats to reward Jerry for a job well done.

The job was of his own creation — he said he started a conversation with President Mark Emmert about the goose-defecation problem on campus while waiting before a press conference for football coach Steve Sarkisian.

“Jerry had some experience doing volunteer goose patrol for the Seattle parks department,” Finnelly said.

With this in mind, Tom said he asked President Emmert if he and Jerry could do some volunteer work and help eradicate the geese problem. From then on, Tom and Jerry have been on goose patrol four to five days a week.

“Geese are a big problem on campus,” said Howard Nakase, the manager of Landscape and Grounds Operations for the UW. “They usually hang out close to a waterway, and one of the major challenges we have with them is their defecation all over those areas. And this creates a health hazard because it pollutes the water to some degree.”

Tom said that it’s hard for the team to cover the entire campus themselves but that they manage. He said he’s noticed that Jerry clears most geese out of the fountain and that there’s less mess by the fountain and off the canal.

Geese can also pose a danger to campus safety.

“When they are mating and have their little goslings, they’re very protective in the nesting areas,” Nakase said. “And any pedestrians that come by, they’ll actually attack them.”

Jerry is sensitive to the goose population during their nesting season. “There is a pair of resident geese we leave alone,” Finnelly said, “as well as their baby geese.”

Nakase has employed other methods, such as spray-deterrent grape-juice extracts or wind-powered figurines that are designed to scare the geese away with their movements.

Unfortunately, a collection of fake coyotes placed on the crew docks have lost their effect. A family of ducks was spotted right next to the three scarecrow-like statues as Jerry chased them into the water.

Communications Manager for Seattle Parks and Recreation Dewey Potter said geese defecation became a problem for Seattle about 10 years ago when a collection of geese moved here and decided not to migrate.

“The population got out of control,” Dewey said. “It was estimated to be well over 3,000. They were fowling our beaches, our golf courses and our playgrounds. It reached the point where people couldn’t take their kids to the beach.”

Dewey said this is when the King County Health Board adopted a resolution declaring the geese-defecation problem a health hazard.

“At that point,” Dewey said, “Parks and Recreation entered a contract with U.S. Department of Agriculture and implemented the lethal method for a couple of years. That was very painful and very controversial. And we stopped doing it in 2003 when we entered a contract with two animal-support organizations — Progressive Animal Welfare Society and The Humane Society — to get their volunteers to come out and help with clean-ups and geese-hazing to keep them from staying in one place.”

Dewey said geese-hazing has been used in the past, employing tools such as lasers, extract deterrents and dog chasing.

“At this point, the population is low enough that we can manage the population with mechanical methods,” Dewey said.

However, Dewey said the best way to keep goose populations low is to find the nests and addle the eggs so they don’t hatch. When effective, there are almost no goslings in the next hatch.

While geese and other animals are part of our environment, Howard put it best: “No one wants to go by an area that has poop everywhere.”

Upon further investigation, this Tom and Jerry duo is far more harmonious than the television classic.

“Any way we can find a safe way to prod them along to find a new area to land is a good thing,” Tom said.

Reach reporter Tyler Steele at lifestyles@dailyuw.com.

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