Meet Our New Animal Ambassador - The Face of Cruel Dove Releases

Look at that smile!

Look at that smile!

A few weeks ago AK told me that Kuu needs a friend. He felt it wasn't fair that the hens had each other but Kuu was the only one of her species in the coop. Yesterday I saw listings for three white pigeons at the Pasadena Humane Society. I called for more information and they told me the birds were found in the yard of a Pasadena resident on the day of the Pasadena Rose Parade.

Was this another "dove release" bird like Kuu was? A homing pigeon that couldn't make it home after being released from a parade float? We were at the Rose Parade this year. We saw birds being released right in front of us. During the adoption process, more than one employee suggested to me that these birds were most likely released during the Rose Parade. Why else would three white hungry "doves" suddenly appear in a backyard near the parade route, on the same day?

Incidentally, doves were released from the Honda (main sponsor) float and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation float which honored victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre. AK and I visited Pulse in person in October to pay our respects to the victims. We were glad to see AIDS Healthcare honoring the victims in the parade, because not everybody who'd like to can travel to Orlando. We feel they're an amazing organization, just misinformed on this particular issue. Additionally, we feel the Rose Parade is a magnificent community event rooted in tradition and flawlessly executed. Yet, they need to understand the consequences of live animal displays.

Without these particular birds being banded or microchipped, there's no way of verifying that they were the exact birds released during the parade. It would be an incredible coincidence if they were not, but I'll leave room for error. Regardless, the fact remains 150 or more white "doves" were released from two floats during the Rose Parade. And it's my personal opinion that the burden is on the owners to prove they achieved a 100% return rate of their birds. Additionally, I believe it should be the responsibility of all bird release companies to band and chip their birds, provide access to flight space at all times, and be subject to facilities inspections (considering a complete and total ban on the industry his highly unlikely). You'll notice that the companies don't post photos of their facilities on their websites: they don't want the public seeing the massive infrastructure of small cages.

Panoramic view of the Pasadena Humane Society Critter House. The employees and volunteers at Pasadena Humane Society were as nice as could be and the facility is immaculate. The pigeons were caged in the Critter House which had quite a few rabbits, but, thankfully, also a lot of empty cages. Empty cages means fewer animal drop-offs and/or high adoption rates.

Panoramic view of the Pasadena Humane Society Critter House. The employees and volunteers at Pasadena Humane Society were as nice as could be and the facility is immaculate. The pigeons were caged in the Critter House which had quite a few rabbits, but, thankfully, also a lot of empty cages. Empty cages means fewer animal drop-offs and/or high adoption rates.

At the Humane Society my choice of the three birds was easy. In the photo below you can see that two of the birds appear to be bonded and the third stood alone. The adoption counselor took me to a small room so I could hold and examine the lone bird. The counselor read the doctor's notes (shown below) stating that the birds came in "abnormally thin" and crying for seed.

Once home he took a diatomaceous earth dust bath, as he had signs of a few external parasites. Not uncommon, yet one more sign that the pigeons were likely not given the attention they deserved at their former home.

I was nervous to introduce the new bird to the coop, as I didn't want him to get bullied by Kuu or vice versa. However, he only spent several minutes alone on a feeding platform before Kuu flew across the run and sat right next to him! They peacefully spent the rest of the afternoon together.

Watch my video about their introduction below or skip to the part where I go on a rant about "dove" releases.

Kuu is on the right. You can see the contrast between her pristine white feathers and "new bird" who probably hasn't been kept in the cleanest conditions.

Kuu is on the right. You can see the contrast between her pristine white feathers and "new bird" who probably hasn't been kept in the cleanest conditions.

There are dove release companies all over the country with elegant websites extolling the virtues of their humane releases. They'll tell you in their FAQ sections that after a release event, the doves circle the release site a few times to get their bearings and then fly home to eat all the food they want. Everybody wins, right?

And if anybody criticizes dove releases, better watch out! These owners ferociously defend their bread & butter. They will tell you that people like me are ignorant, misinformed, and misleading the public. Of course they will, they don't want to go out of business. At $200-500 for a typical release, it's no wonder.

They will tell you that they love their birds... but I have a far different definition of the word.

The company websites don't say anything about the percentage of pigeons that don't make it home. They don't tell you about the pigeons that get disoriented and hit by cars or fly into buildings. Think that doesn't happen? If you were at the Rose Parade this year you would have seen first-hand how confused the pigeons appeared after the release. It was bizarre and heartbreaking.

The owners won't tell you about the pigeons like Kuu and our new bird who couldn't make it home and were so hungry they just sat on the ground waiting to be picked up. But what if a good samaritan wasn't the one who picked them up? What if it was a cat, a coyote, or a hawk? A white dove of peace doesn't look so peaceful when it's torn apart by a predator on your front lawn. (Links below show that very such thing)

Pigeon owners won't tell you that, when not outside training, many of them keep their birds in small wire cages. That they're withheld food before a release so that they're motivated to fly back home for that big feast you were promised they'd receive. But if the bird can't make it home right after the release, it's already at a disadvantage as it's low on energy. Case in point, my Pasadena pigeon.

A pet store near us sells pigeons and doves likely for sport and hobby (such as pigeon racing). The cages are cramped and filthy. It's not representative of all pigeon owners, but it shouldn't be representative of any. Birds should not be kept in cages. They should not be sold in stores. They should not be bred for entertainment and profit. We should not accept that it's okay that "most" of the pigeons make it home after a release. We should not think it beautiful for a bird to be dyed, like Kuu, to match someone's wedding dress.

What if you were to walk out into your backyard and find a bald eagle dipped head to toe in yellow paint? Our national symbol of freedom turned into a party favor. Would it not cause national outrage? Would the perpetrators of such a crime not be hunted down and prosecuted? Of course they would! But somewhere in our history we arbitrarily decided that eagles are more worthy of our respect and protection than another bird species. The prevailing attitude is that eagles are majestic and pigeons are filthy and expendable. Rats with wings. A disease-carrying public nuisance.

But it's only savvy marketing that has us believing that "doves" are something other than your typical street pigeon. The truth is, dove release birds are not doves at all. They are pigeons.

So if your bride-to-be friend is planning a dove release for her wedding because it symbolizes peace and purity, kindly let her know that her wedding will be forever commemorated by those "winged rats" that on any other day of the week she'd probably curse for crapping on the sidewalk.... if you'll kindly pardon the blunt perspective.

Please let her know that rolled into the cost of her pigeon release is an attrition rate and a cull rate. Breeders will kill birds that don't exhibit the ideal traits of a perfect pigeon that's quick to return home. And birds with off color feathers? Off with their heads! Please inform the bride about the birds that get snatched out of the air by predators (see photos in links below) or end up in my aviary which has unwittingly become a pigeon retirement home. That's the truth of what her wedding will symbolize. But I can't blame her for not knowing that. It's almost never talked about. Most bride and grooms think they're doing something beautiful and harmless.

So that's the truth of what can happen at dove releases like the one's we watched at the Pasadena Rose Parade. And I have the pigeons to prove it. And I love them. And they don't have to work for it.

Sources and Additional Reading:

My intention with this article is to raise awareness via the expression of my personal opinion about the ethical treatment of animals. I am not accusing any specific individual, company, or organization of intentional wrongdoing or illegal activity. I believe the practices of pigeon/dove release, pigeon racing, and the use of animals in entertainment should be universally banned. I believe that necessary animal protection laws in this country are not in place and that the enforcement of existing laws are woefully lax leading to an epidemic of cruelty and suffering.