Pigeon breeders blast city ban as ‘terrible cruelty’ — but some neighbors fed up
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Joe Greif is so emotionally attached to his pigeons, he would sooner leave Chicago than shut down his pigeon coop.
Paul Hanna can’t afford to leave because his fiancee is a Chicago police officer. His only choice is to move his coop outside the city, ground his 22-pigeon racing team and keep them indoors — permanently — to prevent them following their homing instincts and returning to his Northwest Side home.
“I’ll have to get out of the sport of racing pigeons. They’ll never be able to go outside again. They’ll be prisoners,” said Hanna, 35, a liquor salesman from Jefferson Park.
“It’s terrible cruelty. These birds were bred to fly outside and train and race. Just this morning, I took my birds on a 45-mile training toss. They made it home in 50 minutes. Now, those birds will never be allowed to fly again. This is devastating. This is something I’ve been doing since I was 9 years old.”
Hanna and Greif are facing painful choices now that a City Council committee has closed a legal loophole that exempted them from a five-month-old ordinance banning pigeon coops in residential neighborhoods.
The original version made an exception for those who import, transport, own or keep pigeons for “zoological educational, medical or scientific purposes.”
The new version, advanced by the Health Committee Wednesday at the behest of Ald. Tom Allen (38th), includes no such loophole. The only exception would be “the keeping of pigeons as part of an exhibit at either the Lincoln Park Zoo or the zoo at Indian Boundary Park.”
After an appeal to aldermen that fell on deaf ears and a threat by his attorney to challenge the revision, Hanna was so choked up about the dilemma he was near tears.
For at least four generations starting with his great-grandfather in Poland, the Hanna family has bred and raced homing pigeons. Now that cherished tradition must end.
“The oldest pigeon I have was born in 1988. You’re attached to them. They become part of your life, part of your family, part of your daily routine,” said Hanna, president of the Greater Chicago Combine and Center, a group that includes 85 Chicago pigeon breeders.
“The quality of life issue? What about our quality of life and what we enjoy doing? I purchased my house. I pay my taxes. Now I’m not allowed to do what I enjoy.”
Greif, who has 50 pigeons, said: “I’ll probably move to another city. They’re part of my life. … I’ve had it ever since I was a child.”
As attached as Hanna and Greif are to their pigeons, that’s how strongly some of their neighbors feel about the nuisance it creates.
“The pigeons . . . fly all around and they land on my house. My roof looks like . . . s—. I had to redo it,” said Nicholas Ledezma, who lives in the 4500 block of West Foster.
“I’m over here with my kids playing in my yard and [his pigeon-breeding neighbor] has the audacity to tell my son to keep it down because he’s flying the pigeons. That ticked me off. You cannot enjoy the yard. They keep flying. . .. I’m fed up with it.”
Dan Walczak said he has the same problem in the 5900 block of South Nagle.
“They say they only fly twice a day. Well, twice a day, there’s a hundred birds flying around crapping,” Walczak said.
“You’ve got poop on your windows, on your deck — all over the place. Last week, there must have been 75 to 100 droppings in my yard, which is one big deck I’ve got to hose down every day. I’ve got grandchildren. Before they come over, I have to make sure the yard is clean.”