CEDAR RAPIDS — Who needs border collies when you have FIDO?
Flummoxed city parks officials a year ago toyed with the idea of recruiting border collies to take a turn at chasing and terrorizing the packs of Canada geese that comfortably mass in city parks and golf courses and leave loads of droppings behind.
Instead of putting border collies through the paces, the city called on members of the Quiet Flyers, a local remote-control airplane club, to help come up with a remote-control menace to scatter unwanted geese.
And on Tuesday, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz unveiled FIDO — Fowl Intercept & Dispersal Officer — at the city’s new McGrath Amphitheatre, now a favorite riverfront hangout for scores of geese and where on Tuesday it was hard to see the still-brown grass for the geese feces.
"It’s going to be a great season for the amphitheater, and we want to make sure this is a facility our public can enjoy," Pomeranz said at the cold, blustery introduction of FIDO as a few geese flew around the riverfront venue. "So this morning, I want to introduce our new officer, our new eradication officer, and we’re calling that officer FIDO."
FIDO is a bright fluorescent orange, dog-looking "craft" made of high-density Styrofoam that comes with wheels, the ability to move on ground and water and a mouthful of giant bared teeth. FIDO is outfitted with rechargeable lithium batteries, which last 20 to 30 minutes between charges, and the device includes among its creative parts the shafts of hunting arrows.
Six FIDOs were on display at the amphitheater on Tuesday, with Daniel Gibbins, the city’s parks superintendent, and a parks staff member working the controls to remotely send two of the six scooting across the amphitheater grass.
"We don’t want to terrify the geese, we just want to chase them and let them know this isn’t a good place for them," Gibbins said.
He said FIDO is able to do what parks employees were not able to do late last summer when employees tried to chase geese from the amphitheater before a concert.
"When you run after them, they stay in front of you and don’t take flight. But they really are afraid of this thing," Gibbins said.
He said FIDO’s orange color, fierce-looking teeth and ability to move quickly provide an effective mix to scare geese off.
Wayne Edwards, a retired Rockwell Collins electrical engineer and member of the Cedar Rapids Quiet Flyers, said Tuesday that he was among club members who worked last summer to come up with the best design for a FIDO prototype.
"We took it out to one of the golf courses, and we were actually quite impressed," Edwards said. "We just pulled it out of the truck and set it on the ground, and the geese there started to move away from us. It was pretty effective at getting their attention."
Gibbins credited Lisa Miller, the city’s golf operations manager, with seeing the idea of a geese chaser at a golf conference and bringing the idea back to Cedar Rapids.
The city, he said, decided to try to come up with its own device to save money. FIDO, which city parks workers built, costs about $600 each, while similar devices can cost $3,000 or more if purchased elsewhere, he said.
He said the city will deploy some stationary FIDOs along with the mobile ones once geese learn to avoid the orange color and the big teeth.
For now, FIDO will concentrate on keeping geese away from the amphitheater and golf courses, Gibbins said."Geese are a big problem," he said. "They are a wonderful animal, but there are too many of them here."