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Homeless vet, park goose form unlikely friendship

Homeless vet, park goose form unlikely friendship

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WACO, Texas (AP) — A goose isn't the sort of animal one might expect to show affection, yet a local veteran has developed a special bond with one of the wild birds around Indian Spring Park.

Dominick Garner, 23, has been feeding ducks and geese in the park for the past few months each morning before heading to his job as a security guard.

Slowly, one of the large white geese in the gaggle of four began to follow Garner around, eagerly approaching him for food. Now, the goose will even jump on top of Garner as he lies in the grass, similar to a puppy greeting its owner.

"He came up and he let me feed him, and for a week I did that," Garner, an Army veteran, said. "Then he came up and started letting me pet it for longer and longer, and just started doing more with me."

Since then, Garner has taken a sort of protective role of the goose, which he said has suffered abuse from pedestrians. Garner said he's witnessed people taunt and kick at the goose as they walk by.

He doesn't know whether it's male or female, and he hasn't given it a nickname, he said. Although there's another white goose in the gaggle that looks identical to Garner's, only his pal responds to Garner's whistles and attempts to follow him when he leaves the park.

Garner noted his feathered friend is more aggressive and outgoing than the others in his group, something that has made it a bit of an outcast. Garner said he watched the geese getting into a spat in the water, nearly drowning his buddy.

"No one likes this goose," Garner said, laughing. "I don't know what it is."

The geese near the river are notoriously unfriendly, sometimes honking or chasing people who walk along the riverwalk.

Waco Park Ranger Kim Jennings said another pair of geese that hung around the Cameron Park side of the riverwalk had to be relocated a few years ago for being too combative with park visitors.

Some of that behavior is because geese mate for life and can be territorial over their partners, so they can become aggressive if they feel their space is being threatened, Jennings said.

"They're still wild. ... They're not someone's pet," Jennings said. "I always tell people, just because they're nice one day doesn't mean they're always going to be in a good mood, so just use caution and common sense."

For Garner, the bond with the goose is in part due to his own experience living on the streets. He is homeless, mainly staying at the Salvation Army's shelter in the past year.

Garner, a Pittsburgh native, moved to Waco after being discharged from Fort Hood in February 2012 but said he fell on hard times and became unemployed, racking up debt in the process.

He aims to save enough money through his new job at Securitas Security Services to eventually move into his own place. Garner also is receiving some assistance from the local Veterans Affairs homelessness representative to obtain treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and to apply for disability benefits.

"It gives me another outlook on life," Garner said, adding that most people would normally just walk by the geese in the park.

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