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Get Stuffed

More than a golden egg

The power and persuasion of the goose

Old Mother Goose. Silly goose. Golden goose. Loose as a goose. Gooseberries and gooseneck squash. The Fox and Goose and all the other great goosily-named British pubs. The goose egg that grew on your head after you whacked it on the trunk. All the times you’ve been a silly goose, or realized your goose was pretty much cooked, or felt covered in goosebumps.

Somewhere between the duck and the swan, both metaphorically and in fact, lies the noble goose, capturing imaginations and anchoring myths and stories for pretty much as long as our collective memory reaches.

In ancient China and ancient Egypt, the goose was considered a messenger between heaven and Earth, undeniably an important job whichever way you look at it. And in ancient Rome, sacred geese were kept around the temple of Juno. They went on to further distinguish themselves by loudly honking or squawking or whatever sound geese make when the Gauls attacked, alerting everyone to get up NOW and fend off the invading marauders. A golden goose was carried through the streets of Rome in special ceremonies after that.

Celts equated the goose with the swan. Bretons equated the goose with the hare and hen (surprisingly, unlike in later years, all were forbidden to be eaten). Caesar, hanging back in Rome while his good soldiers swarmed what now constitutes the British Isles and France, noted this fact along with the curiosity that geese were raised for pets.

You may well think that Whistler’s Carmen Traub is simply carrying on in this tradition by keeping two classic white Ebden geese as pets. Carmen, on the other hand, would point out that her geese’s special status is not so much a tip to tradition as one part accident and two parts bliss.

In the year Carmen has had them, Snorkel and Goggles, as the two feathered sisters are named due to their predilection for water, have quickly claimed far more than their Warholian allotment of 15 minutes of fame. Most of this notoriety has arisen through the regular appearances they’ve put in until recently at the Whistler Farmers’ Market, much to the delight of everyone who happened upon them.

Alas, these market appearances have come to an end. But if someone felt moved to sponsor same, I’m sure they would carry on. For now, however, you’ll have to be content to catch them waddling around their neighbourhood in Emerald Estates, not unsupervised I would hastily add in case loose geese are frowned upon, or being towed in the Goosemobile as Carmen bikes around Green Lake.

Originally, Carmen had her heart set on fuzzy yellow ducklings to add to her pet kingdom and replace a much-loved potbellied pig, who died suddenly two years ago. But a kind farmer near 89 Mile House talked her into adopting the two geese instead. They were yellow, after all, when she got them as week-old goslings, albeit a funny kind of mustardy greenish-yellow.

"Domestic geese don’t sit on their eggs very long, then they leave them, so the fatality rate is pretty high. So when the mother goose laid the eggs, the farmer put them under a chicken, which will sit and sit and sit on them," explains Carmen. "When they hatched, they thought the chicken was their mother."

This isn’t unusual, with young geese known to imprint on the first large animal they see – a dog, a hen, even a human. Ergo the ongoing adventures of Ontario’s Bill Lishman as a "Father Goose" figure, teaching orphaned Canadian geese safe migratory routes using an ultralight aircraft.

In Snorkel and Goggles’ case not only did they imprint on hen as mother, she reciprocally imprinted on them. When they first took to water, as geese are prone to do but chickens are not, Ms. Hen would freak out, squawking and flapping in a frenzy, fearful her baby "chicks" would drown. Once home with their new mother at the Traub estate, swimming was encouraged.

"They love baths," says Carmen. "I fill the tub really, really full and they swim around for a while, splashing and making a big mess. Then I drain it halfway and they wash themselves for an hour and a half. They are super clean creatures – they preen and preen and preen."

Carmen loves being close to her pets, and there have been many over the years besides the potbellied pig – a snake which got to be a little scary, a hamster, chickens she had to send back because they turned into roosters, and, currently, a blue heeler and part-Akita along with a parakeet and a young cockatiel to keep Snorkel and Goggles company. Throughout their respective reigns, the family home has been their castle.

This meant early in the goose saga, Carmen learned in a very immediate sense the likely origins of the expression "loose as a goose". She quickly ordered appropriate diapers on-line.

One of the main reasons Ebden geese are raised commercially is that they grow so fast. By the time the diapers arrived via mail, and we’re only talking two weeks here, they no longer fit the fat little goosy bottoms. So Carmen had to improvise, much to the delight of everyone who’s seen the geese wearing their brightly coloured diapers.

"The first harnesses were made of bathing suit material, but I use plastic so it’s easy to clean. The pouch is loose and the poop just drops into it. They’re very lightweight and don’t get mucky, since the geese don’t lie on them – they lie on their stomachs and chests," she explains.

"They aren’t constricting at all, so they can fluff their feathers. The only thing is they can’t go into a pool – there’s half of a real disposable diaper in there and like any diaper, it just fills up."

Compared to the tortuous lives of commercial geese force fed to enlarge their livers for use in pâté de foie gras (food for another column in another mood), or just about any goose on the planet, Snorkel and Goggles lead a golden existence.

They eat a varied diet which includes Romaine lettuce and poultry pellets. Besides excursions via webbed foot or Goosemobile, they enjoy the run of the house by day, and rule the roost in the garage by night.

Since the instinct to fly is bread out of domestic geese, that isn’t an issue. But around a busy household with two dogs and sometimes lots of kids, they operate under the assumption that caution is a good thing, stretching their long goose necks to peer around corners before carrying on. As for the dogs, it didn’t take long before they learned to keep a respectful distance.

While all this sounds delightful, and Carmen will tell you it is, before you rush out to get your own Ebden goose for a pet, consider this. With a lifespan of 30 to 80 years, it’s a long-term commitment, much like that for a parrot. For Whistler’s goose mother, this is obviously not an issue.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who has been goosed by persons unknown on more than one occasion.