by Megan Leigh Barnard

Doggone Wild

“We’ve got an emergency skunk situation.”

Those were the first words out of Adam Turpen’s mouth after the “Hi, nice to meet ya”s.

For the past decade, Turpen has been the alpha dog of the Ohio Wildlife Center’s SCRAM! wildlife control department, which utilizes two trained canines and a small team of animal technicians to provide solutions if you, like many other central Ohioans, find that you’ve been goosed.

Though they are the on-call wildlife control counterpart to the locally known wildlife hospital, goose mitigation is one of SCRAM!’s specialties. The process is twofold: eliminate the presence of geese from areas heavily populated by humans, and relocate the birds to a safer, more fitting environment.

“Our goal is to harass and chase the geese so they are less likely to nest in those areas,” explained Turpen.

Hopping up into his truck, I was greeted with excited licks from a brown and white dog with pointed ears, a sharp nose, and warm brown eyes. That’s Blaze, one of Turpen’s employees. She’s about three years old, and kept her head on Adam’s shoulder the majority of the drive. I was jealous.

Next to Blaze sat Quik. He had his back to me but I could tell he was older, wiser, and significantly more burly than her—long black and white tufts of hair sprung out carelessly in all directions from his full body.

Border collies are completely and totally, unapologetically, unabashedly obsessed with the task at hand. As a fellow border collie owner, I know well how seriously these dogs can take a job as small as watching trailing cars. Turpen admits if he were to choose a breed for a house pet, border collies wouldn’t be his first choice. However, when you’ve got a job that needs done and done right, there’s only one animal you want on duty.

Quik didn’t turn around the entire truck ride on account of him monitoring and periodically barking at the headlight situation behind us. Already punched the clock, good man.

We rolled into a nice residential neighborhood in Dublin—no place for a skunk—when we saw it along a curb. Adam carefully scooped the injured black and white lump into a large tupperware container and placed it in the bed of his truck. This was a typical run for SCRAM! and one that legitimately required their attention. But not all human-animal interactions are a product of nature gone awry.

“A lot of the animals we get are ‘stolen’ from their environment,” Turpen explained.

“They are needlessly taken because of good but misguided intentions.”

In other words, he often gets calls from residents who “rescued” a rabbit or “saved” an “abandoned” baby bird when in reality, nature was just taking its course.

The Ohio Wildlife Center and SCRAM! employ several educational efforts to get those with good but misguided intentions up to speed. They visit schools, participate in community parades, and show up at farmers markets.

But for the animals that do need SCRAM!’s help, they are transported to the Ohio Wildlife Center’s hospital, nursed back to health, and returned to a more fitting location near where they were taken from; like our little skunk friend, for example.

Mission accomplished. Onto the next.

The SCRAM! truck rumbled on towards Zoombezi Bay, where an unsuspecting flock of geese were about to get bounced. In the back seat, it was clear the dogs were shifting into high gear; ears up, proper posture, eyes locked, noses pressed against the window facing the flock.

Quik was locked in on the posse of poultry the moment his paws landed in the dewy grass. He crouched as he walked, remaining in a low athletic stance as we began closing in on the flock a couple hundred yards off in the distance.

We trudged up the bank beside the busy road that leads guests into the zoo and waterpark. Turpen led us towards the geese at an angle to avoid the birds taking flight directly into traffic. Quik’s  “Goose Patrol” harness rattled quietly as he ran. With each careful step, the tension of the invisible rope tethering Quik to the birds grew tighter and tighter. The geese were becoming more and more vocal as our distance shrunk from a few hundred yards to a few hundred feet. Turpen took a moment to explain that the geese were about to take flight towards what SCRAM! and the zoo had deemed an “agreeable location”—a pond off in the distance.

Two little letters—G-O—send the veteran dog off like a cannonball towards his feathered foes. It took but a few seconds of Quik’s pursuit to send the flock up into the sky, flapping towards the safe zone.

“THAT’LL DO,” bellered Adam. “THAT’LL DO.” 

Turpen took a knee with the bright morning sun at his back and his loyal dogs fall naturally at his sides. It was the perfect family portrait. Quik and Blaze unrolled their tongues—Quik’s a bit longer after a hard morning’s work—and welcomed Turpen’s head pats and belly rubs.

“GOOD BOY,” yelled Turpen, with his voice rising higher for “good” and falling low for “boy.”

Quik’s white tipped tail wagged wildly as he began his victory lap.

As far as compensation is concerned, that’s all this humble worker needs to know it was a job well done.•

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