MACKINAC ISLAND, MI – There’s a little ritual that has taken shape around the concierge desk at Mission Point Resort over the last couple years. If you’ve been lucky enough to see it, you know it involves a four-footed sprint, a lot of tail-wagging, and sometimes finishes with a round of applause.
It all starts with a two-word text that comes to concierge Pat Driscolls’ phone: “Goose alert.”
She quickly snaps a leash onto the collar of Nick, a 5-year-old tri-colored border collie who earns his kibble by keeping the resort’s 4-acre Great Lawn free of pesky waterfowl. Together, they head outside to deal with the issue.
“We will go out on the front lawn and I will give him the commands,” said Driscoll, who with other staff is prepping to open the longtime Mackinac Island resort this weekend.
“I tell him to stay. He gets down in his herding position. I tell him to look, and his eyes go right to the geese. Then when we are ready, I tell him to go. And he takes off.”
Nick doesn’t stop his running sweeps until the lawn is clear of the winged invaders. He chases them until they either fly away or retreat into the water.
“If he’s not happy with where they are, then he will go out into the water and chase them,” she said. “Then he will come running back to me. I swear he has a big smile on his face. He absolutely loves it.”
Mission Point started their search for a bird deterrent a few years ago. They are a pet-friendly resort, and had received some complaints from guests about people who were not picking up after their pets. When staff investigated, they found out it wasn’t a dog problem. It was a bird problem.
The 18-acre resort hugs the shoreline on the east side of the island, giving guests an expansive view of the Straits of Mackinac. But its Great Lawn, with its dozens of signature Adirondack chairs, also attracts ducks, geese and other birds.
Driscoll said the resort found out about Nick from a kennel in upstate New York that trains border collies for sheep herding. The big dog had flunked out of the sheep-herding program, but would be good at shooing away waterfowl, the kennel assured staff. Mission Point adopted him and had a trainer put him through his paces on the Great Lawn to teach him his new job.
At first, Nick lived with the resort’s groundskeeper and his wife. But when that couple left the island to spend the winter in Florida, Nick moved in with Driscoll. It was only temporary, she told herself of the arrangement.
“I hadn’t had a dog in 30 years. I just fell in love with this damn dog.”
Driscoll began her resort career in 1995, working for the island’s Grand Hotel. In 2002, she came to Mission Point, first as the activities director, then working in conference services and event planning. Her current role as concierge is her “dream job,” she said. Her husband, the resort’s former housing manager, died four years ago. Through their busy careers, the couple had not had time for a dog, she said.
But that changed for Driscoll when she met Nick three years ago. Mission Point’s groundskeeper retired, and she jumped at the chance to be Nick’s human.
“He is able to come to work with me every day. He sits next to my desk until we get a call about the geese.”
His reward for scaring away the birds? Praise from Driscoll. She’ll scratch his head, rub his fuzzy coat. Maybe even sneak a hug, if he allows it.
“If there are guests out there, they’ll applaud,” she said of Nick’s waterfront work, which typically draws a crowd during the summer. Some people even linger in the lobby, anticipating the next goose alert.
He’s become a bit of an island celebrity. There are plush toys bearing his furry likeness in the resort’s gift shop. A children’s book about his adventures will be released soon.
“He’s just a sweet, loving dog,” said Liz Ware, vice president of marketing and public relations, and part of the family that owns the resort. “He sits at the concierge desk in the lobby, and all the kids come over and pet him.”
Adopting Nick to chase away the waterfowl made sense for Mission Point on a couple different levels, she said. “This is a way to keep our yard clean and to also show that we are pet-friendly. We practice what we preach.”
For Driscoll, Nick has been much more than just another part of her job. When they are not working, you can find the pair walking together on the trails that crisscross the island. Border collies need a lot of exercise, and Driscoll estimates they walk more than five miles a day.
She once read an article that said border collies were among the 10 worst breeds for senior citizens because the pets require so much activity. She scoffs at the notion – and throws in a grain of salty language about what she thinks about that list.
Her life is healthier and fuller with Nick at her side, she said. “He keeps me young.”
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