Friday, February 7, 2014

Canada Geese: Protected migrating bird or free dog toy?

A flock of Canada geese in a suburban park

I live next to a big athletic field that works as a seasonal resting place for a pretty big flock of Canada geese. In the early days of November, when the skies grow dark before I've shut down my computer for the day, a big group of these majestic birds descends on the grass, and they stay in a huddled mass until mid-morning, when they shoot up into the sky in one large cloud that blots out the sun. It's an impressive sight, and it's one of the things I love most about my new home in Oregon.

But sometimes, random neighbors seem to view these birds as little more than free toys for their dogs. On more than one occasion, I've seen people walk their dogs down to this field, unclip their leashes and let the mutts fly in pursuit of these birds.

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier with geese in the background

When asked, most of these people suggest that the activity is harmless. They may tell me that their dogs could never actually catch a goose, and as a result, the chasing they do doesn't harm the birds at all. Others suggest that the gees are pests that poop all over the sidewalk, raise a huge racket early in the morning and otherwise make living near this field a miserable experience.

On the one hand, I get it. Clearly, there are hundreds of thousands of these birds alive in the world, and since hunters are allowed to shoot them out of the sky, they're not considered either protected or endangered. If people can hunt them, why shouldn't dogs be able to run at them?

Similarly, I understand that some dogs have been bred, for generations and generations, to hunt and chase birds. They like to flush these things out, and letting them do what they're bred to do just seems to make them happy. These breeds also tend to use a "soft mouth" when they do encounter a bird, so they probably wouldn't even harm the animal if they could catch it.

Liam the pug in the middle of a field

But it's important to remember that these animals are migrating great distances. They are only transient visitors to our neighborhoods, and they're often pretty tired when they get here. Letting a dog chase one of these birds seems unnecessarily cruel. They need to rest, to fatten up, to prepare for the next leg of the journey. A few choice chases could leave these birds too exhausted to make the trip.

Plus, I would argue that there are other ways to entertain a dog. Throw a ball, a disk or a stuffie. Play tag. Go for a jog. Wrestle. Visit the off-leash dog park and let the canines chase one another. Hike through the falling leaves.

But seriously.

Leave the damn birds alone, okay?

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