The green droppings and molted gray feathers were an irritant. So was the occasional nighttime honking. But almost no one in the Olney community of Waterview wanted it to end like this.
Shortly after sunrise yesterday, workers from a College Park trapping service rounded up 100 Canada geese that had been a fixture at the community's pond for almost a decade. As about a dozen residents cried "murderers" and "butchers," according to witnesses, the workers pumped carbon monoxide into a white van holding the geese. The carcasses were placed in giant black trash bags and taken to Baltimore, where they probably will be rendered into dog or cat food.
It was a grim conclusion to a dispute that had roiled the neighborhood for the last week and a half. On one side was the five-member board of Environ -- an umbrella homeowners association for five communities including Waterview -- that wanted the geese gone. On the other was a vocal group of residents demanding that the geese be spared.
A petition drive that stretched into early yesterday produced 200 signatures, opponents said, enough to trigger an emergency homeowners meeting. But it was too late. Five hours later, the geese, molting and without flight feathers to escape, were euthanized.
"It was heartbreaking," said Andrea Keller, a four-year resident who watched with her 15-month-old daughter, Alison. "This all came down in the eleventh hour, and we really thought we would have a chance to stop this."
Keller and dozens of other opponents had been advocating other measures to drive the gaggle away: treating the grass to make it bitter-tasting to the birds or herding them with border collies.
"A death sentence for pooping on the walkways is a little bit extreme," said Maggie Brasted, assistant director of the Wild Neighbors program of the Humane Society of the United States.
Environ board members, who did not return phone calls asking for comment, told residents that extermination was the only practical choice. Collies were too expensive, and a two-year effort to destroy the goose eggs failed, according to Shireen Ambush, vice president of Abaris Realty, managing agent for Environ.
Ambush said Environ had no choice but to act after years of resident complaints, which all centered on the same subject.
"Did you see the poop?" asked Chris McDougall, holding his wire-hair Jack Russell terrier on a leash. "I can't walk my dog, there's so much."
But McDougall and most residents said they still didn't want to see the animals killed.
"I am so angry at the board," said Nilsa Hairston-Proctor, a 35-year-old trauma nurse. "We could say, 'There's dog poop on the ground, so let's exterminate all the dogs,' " she said. "There are also people who complain about the bullfrogs. Are they next?"
The movement to spare the geese began by chance. Mary Moneymaker, 57, a school bus driver and longtime Waterview resident, and her neighbor Ioana Hance ran into an Environ board member June 21 near the pond. "We were talking about how cute the geese are," said Hance, a molecular biologist.
"He just said in passing: 'That problem is going to be taken care of,' " Moneymaker recalled.
The board member, Fred Entin, told them that the board had decided at a meeting months earlier to euthanize the geese. Ambush said that it was too expensive to mail the minutes of the board meeting to all 600 Environ residents but that the boards of each member community had been informed. Not all of those boards, though, knew about the decision, according to Keller, who sits on the Fairhill Farm board.
Moneymaker and Hance immediately mobilized. "WATERVIEW'S GEESE TO BE SLAUGHTERED" read the 50 signs they posted near the pond June 23. They encouraged neighbors to attend a board meeting that night.
Board members said at the meeting that the decision was irreversible. Environ had obtained a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and had given the trapping company a $1,500 deposit toward the $3,000 fee.
Brasted, of the Humane Society, said geese are an increasingly common presence in the suburbs, where comfortable habitat discourages migration.
"We have big green lawns, and there are nice bodies of water, and there aren't a lot of predators," Brasted said. "We've created goose nirvanas, and then we're angry that they're here."
Larry Hindman, waterfowl project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which also signed off on the permit, said only two or three permits are issued each year in the state to euthanize geese. But he predicted that there will be more. "As people object to living next to large numbers of geese," he said, "this is probably going to become more and more common."
Twelve geese remain in the murky green waters of the Waterview community pond. The permit limited the killing to 100, and the lucky few were left behind.
Steven Landsman, president of Abaris, said a letter will be mailed to every Environ home inviting all residents to serve on an ad hoc committee to deal with the remaining geese.
The Environ board no longer wants to deal with the issue.
"In the future," Landsman said, "the geese will be handled by committee."