Max Turns His Failure As a Farm Dog Into a Career on Governors Island


For many, Labor Day is a time to relax and get away from the daily grind, but for Max — the geese-herding Border Collie employed by New York City’s Governors Island — the daily grind is everything a dog could ask for.

“He doesn’t like days off. He gets sulky if I try to sleep in,” explains Jim Reed, Director of Park and Public Space at Governors Island and Max’s human. “He just loves working.”

Max’s love of labor makes him the perfect employee for the 172-acre island located just a few hundred yards away from Manhattan and Brooklyn in the New York City Harbor. He’s been patrolling the idyllic park setting since 2015, humanely dispersing the so-called super flocks of Canada geese who crowd out other bird species and litter the lawns with an unreal amount of bird poop. The geese can also get pretty hostile with park visitors during nesting season.

Max loves the view at work on Governors Island. (Photo courtesy The Trust for Governors Island)
Max loves the view at work on Governors Island. (Photo courtesy The Trust for Governors Island)

Before Max came onboard, Reed’s team tried all sorts of ways to make Governors Island less appealing to massive geese flocks. They used little motorized cars, strobe lights, and even a special laser before eventually hiring professional Border Collie goose-herding services.

Such services are recommended by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Humane Society of the United States as an effective and humane way to manage an overpopulation of problem geese. The dogs don’t bark at or hurt the birds — they just herd them away.

The hired dogs were certainly effective, but the geese would return as soon as the Collies left the island. Reed needed a more permanent solution and wondered how he could go about getting a permanent goose-herding dog. The husband of the outgoing president of Governors Island had experience training dogs and suggested Reed consider adopting a Border Collie, as the high-energy breed are often given up by humans who don’t understand their herding drive.

“He thought we should really consider getting a rescue [dog] because it would be a great service not just to give a job to a working dog, but to give a job to a dog who is basically in rescue because he doesn’t have a job.”

Reed and Max on adoption day. (Photo courtesy The Trust for Governors Island)
Reed and Max on adoption day. (Photo courtesy The Trust for Governors Island)

Reed reached out to three Border Collie rescues and found one, Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue, that was a perfect fit. He explained how he needed a Border Collie who had herding experience, but who would also be great with people and could serve as an ambassador to Governors Island guests.

After six months, Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue matched Reed with Max. Having spent the first three years of his life on a farm, Max had the herding experience Reed was looking for and also the people-loving personality needed for the gig.

“One of the reasons Max was put up for adoption was, by the time he had turned 3 he hadn’t really sobered into a working dog personality,” Reed explains. “Most Border Collies are about the work, and they’re a bit more stoic, but Max really needed to have a lot of human interaction.”

Max can't wait to greet his visitors. (Photo courtesy The Trust for Governors Island)
Max can’t wait to greet his visitors. (Photo courtesy The Trust for Governors Island)

It seemed the part of his personality that had cost Max his first job made him the perfect candidate for the one Reed was offering, and in January 2015 Reed adopted the dog — but not before preparing himself.

“I had to do a lot of training myself. I wasn’t ready for a working dog. I’ve always had dogs, but having a working dog is a whole new level of responsibility,” he says, adding that he credits Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue and his goose-herding trainer, Kristine Schmidt, for setting Max and him up for success.

These days, Max’s secondary job duties involve greeting visitors and acting as the island’s unofficial therapy dog. He’s beloved by staff and guests alike, but when it’s time to focus on geese disbursement, the lovable dog becomes very serious, according to Reed.

“When we go on patrol, he’s all business. He just will not respond to people in the same way. He wants to get to work, and he’s very eager to get to work every day.”

So eager in fact, that it took Reed about a year to convince Max to not wake him up at 4 a.m. These days, the guys sleep in until 5:30.

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