Natural selection: Monticello picks pups to oust deer

By Kimberley Liu

Like many frustrated suburban homeowners watching their prized shrubs disappear down the gullets of marauding wildlife, Monticello officials have grown tired of having their exotic plants chomped.

But eschewing the drastic solutions of some County folk bow-hunting springs to mind– Monticello officials are enlisting a traditional ally to keep the historic gardens intact: a pair of beagles. At night, the hounds patrol close to 10 acres of Mr. Jefferson's domain, scaring off the trespassers that vex Albemarle gardens more than any other: deer.

"They eat everything we grow," says Monticello's director of gardens and grounds, Peter Hatch. Quoting his favorite nature writer, John McPhee, Hatch calls deer "rats with antlers."

Before resorting to the canine solution, Hatch experimented with soap, pepper spray, and a host of commercial products. But they had to be reapplied constantly, says Hatch, and even then the deer would often return.

Would Thomas Jefferson be shocked to know what is going on at his beloved little mountain?

Back when deer were scarce, the third president built a park to keep deer on his property and even fed them from his own hand. "Deer were precious to him," says Hatch.

The dogs have been an efficient– if not necessarily kinder– solution because they do nothing to stop overpopulation.

Less hunting and more suburbs– with their ready food supplies– have caused local deer populations to increase about 100-fold since Jefferson's time. "Cruelty," says Hatch, "is too many deer wasting away from disease."

But what keeps the dogs from running off?

Like many pets on suburban lawns, the beagles wear collars that shock them if they step outside the boundaries of two underground electric fences, one around the house and another around the gardens.

A few years down the road, Hatch may have to find a new solution, as deer have been known to get used to dogs.

Until then, Mr. Jefferson can rest easy, knowing that neither his flora nor fauna are coming to a violent end.

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