ANNAPOLIS — The geese lounged close together in a field of tall grass, busy mucking around, doing what geese do.
“They know we’re here, they’re watching us,” Colleen Shannon said as she approached the field with Rain, her 3-year-old Kelpie, an Australian sheep dog.
Shannon held Rain back for a few moments, and then released her into the Edgewater grass.
“Get ’em, Rainy, get ’em.”
The dog made a beeline for the flock, which scattered immediately in a chorus of squawks.
Welcome to Shannon’s retirement — or at least how the 47-year-old stagehand eventually envisions retirement.
For now, she operates Maryland Goose Patrol part-time, visiting properties that have hired her to remove birds before and after she heads to Washington for her union job.
Rain, who is specially trained, doesn’t catch or kill the geese. She just scares them off so they won’t return. This takes many visits over many months, Shannon said. She calls it goose hazing.
“You have to continue the harassment to be effective,” said Larry Hindman, waterfowl project leader at the state Department of Natural Resources.
People have to guard against pushing the geese to another property where they’re also a problem, but studies show it does work, he said. No license or permit from DNR is required.
Fred Scott, president of the Smallwood Village Association in Waldorf, said Rain was having a similar impact on geese that gather around a lake in his community until people began feeding the birds.
“Her dog Rain is absolutely fantastic,” Scott said. “Rain has got one thing on her mind and one thing only.”
He said he liked the idea of Shannon’s goose patrol because it’s “a very environmentally friendly way to deal with the problem.”
Geese, he explained, were damaging the landscaping around the lake by eating the plants. The birds were also leaving their droppings everywhere.
Since people won’t stop feeding the birds, which negates Rain’s best efforts, he has to come up with another solution.
Shannon said her method is preferable to chemicals, which are expensive, can wash away, and are less eco-friendly. Mylar balloons, loud noise and lights also don’t work as well and can be a distraction to neighbors, she said.
“By the time they get to the point of calling me, they’ve pretty much tried all their options,” said the mother of two elementary-school-aged children. “The geese see [Rain] as a predator. So, the resident geese will move off. They’ll realize it’s not a safe place to be.”
Shannon bases her charges on a sliding scale, depending on the size of the property and the location. Prices start at $75 per visit. She initially goes to a site twice a day, five days a week for two weeks, then scales back. People should see a reduction in geese in less than a month, she said. Because new geese can migrate in, she performs maintenance visits.
“[Rain] loves doing it and I love doing it,” she said. “It’s a great gig. When I retire, I’ll do this full-time.”
Shannon’s journey into goose hazing came courtesy of Broadway and Barry Manilow. Those are the types of shows she’s worked on as a stagehand.
One of her colleagues who is also into dogs told her about goose work, and Shannon immediately latched onto the idea.
“Working with animals is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “That’s a dream job. I enjoy being outside with her and I’m proud of her.”
Shannon did some research, then went out to California for a week to train with Rain.
She started Maryland Goose Patrol in January. She only has two clients, but hopes to expand.
“People think [geese] are funny,” Shannon said. “People think geese are pretty. People don’t think about how much they eat and how much they poop.”
Rain can work year-round, but the summer months are the quietest since the geese are molting. Winter weather doesn’t bother Rain, though Shannon’s had to be careful the dog doesn’t get trapped on the ice.
Rain responds to verbal commands and a whistle Shannon wears around her neck.
“I don’t want to say I’m a dog-whisperer, but I have a thing with dogs,” she said.