NEWS- Dell-icate matter: UVA sics dogs on 'Tom and Martha'

Liz Kutchai walks around the Dell Pond on Emmet Street every day. She's seen a blue heron alight there, and a pair of mallards visited this spring. Most recently, a pair of Canada geese she dubbed "Tom and Martha" tried to take up residence until they were hounded– literally– away by a border collie.

The day before graduation weekend, she spotted two men with what she describes as "specially trained attack dogs" harassing the geese at the pastoral stone-edged pond UVA unveiled two years ago.

A life-preserver-wearing dog was paddling around in the water, but the men told Kutchai they don't actually touch the geese. "They said yes, we've been hired to get rid of them by the university," Kutchai recounts.

She fired off a letter to UVA Vice President Leonard Sandridge. "What did the University think was going to happen once they had completed this nearly perfect habitat for waterfowl?" she wrote. "Did you all think that it would remain the aquatic version of a Potemkin village, lovely to look at but utterly fake?"

Spokesperson Carol Wood confirms that UVA hired a firm that uses border collies to convince the geese the Dell may not be the best place to call home. "The dog does not harm the geese," she says. "It simply chases them away."

The university is concerned about geese setting up shop in the Dell, and Wood cites safety of families with small children, damage to landscape, and– inescapably– the goose droppings.

'So you can understand our concern when this past spring," Wood says, "someone of the staff of the Architect's Office spotted several geese who appeared to be doing their own reconnaissance of the Dell as a possible future home."

While Wood sympathizes with those who like to see the geese flying overhead or paddling about the small pond, she says, "They might not understand the unwanted problems the geese bring with them."

While generally considered a migratory bird, in recent years, many Canada geese have become permanent residents of Central Virginia.

Brian Daly, assistant director of parks and recreation for the City of Charlottesville, has seen first hand the effects of a burgeoning goose population at Meadowcreek Golf Course at Pen Park, where he estimates there are 75 to 100 Canada geese, and he recently counted 25 goslings. 

"They're certainly in the way of golfers, particularly near the ponds," says Daly. Goslings toddle around, and it's coming up on molting season. And of course, there's the poop, not only around the ponds and on walkways, but in the water as well.

"The problem with these resident geese is that they mate for life," says Daly. "They have three to five goslings, and these geese don't go anywhere. The population growth is exponential."

City government is taking measures to discourage the birds from getting too comfortable, working with an organization called Geese Peace. One method being considered is "egg addling." Daly explains that goose eggs coated with vegetable oil won't develop, and if the eggs fail to hatch, the geese move elsewhere to nest.

Another tactic is not to mow near the pond. The birds fly into the pond and walk out, says Daly, and if there's a natural barrier there, they're not necessarily going to walk through tall grass.

Such barriers are part of the Dell's design, which was intended to discourage goose habitation. Two sides have swimming-pool-like edges, and the vegetation planted was chosen to "make geese nervous," says Art Lichtenberger, president of the Lewis Mountain Neighborhood Association. 

"The university from the onset had indicated that geese would not be tolerated at Dell Pond," says Lichtenberger, who has heard a few comments from neighbors who want to see fowl in the Dell.

"While I appreciate the love of wildlife, the neighborhood was told upfront [UVA didn't want geese] and didn't object, and the neighborhood is not objecting now," he says.

Marlene Condon, author of The Nature Friendly Garden, takes issue with the university's tactics.

"The dogs are really public relations because UVA doesn't want people to say they're killing the geese," says Condon. "In the long run, it doesn't make a lot of sense because the geese are going to be a problem for someone else."

But killing the geese is probably the best solution, rather than shipping them elsewhere, according to Condon, who blames the overpopulation on a lack of bolder animals in the food chain. 

"You've got to have predators," she declares. "They're really necessary to keep them from getting overpopulated. It's a problem people are going to have to come to a consensus on."

Canada geese need not apply: The Dell Pond across from Mem Gym was designed to discourage the excrement-dropping fowl.