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Pigeon racing revival plucked from Council agenda — after bird lovers squawk

A pigeon flies in its loft in Two Rivers, Wis., at the home of the president of the Two Rivers Pigeon Racing Club in 2008. (AP Photo/Herald-Times Reporter, Jaslyn Gilbert)

A pigeon flies in its loft in Two Rivers, Wis., at the home of the president of the Two Rivers Pigeon Racing Club in 2008. (AP Photo/Herald-Times Reporter, Jaslyn Gilbert)

A controversial plan to sanction the sport of pigeon racing in Chicago may be grounded before it’s even cleared for take-off.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said Monday he asked the City Council’s Finance Committee not to vote on the ordinance he introduced last month after he was bombarded with emails and Facebook messages by bird lovers.

“They’re of the opinion that this is cruel to the pigeons. They were concerned also about having them housed in the conditions they’re gonna be in. I explained to them the value of these pigeons to the owners. I assured them that they’re probably taken better care of than some other animals,” Villegas said.

“I just said, ‘I’m not the salesperson for this. I’m just the one that’s introducing legislation. Any question they have, they can hear it straight from the [pigeon racing] association.”

In 2003, the City Council clipped the wings of Chicagoans who bred and raced pigeons in residential neighborhoods amid complaints from homeowners fed up with the stench.

“Flatulence is like roses compared to the smell of pigeon manure,” Northwest Side resident Paul Covangka complained then.

On Monday, Villegas said the odor has nothing to do with the new round of opposition because his stalled ordinance is worded so carefully.

The Chicago ban on pigeon keeping would be lifted, only if the owner “is a member in good standing of a recognized national not-for- profit professional organization or its local affiliate that requires a minimum standard of care for the keeping and recreational use of pedigreed rock doves.”

Each pigeon would have to be registered with the national organization. There would also be “periodic certification” of pigeon enclosures, aviaries or sheds.

Enclosure “shall be of sufficient size and design and constructed of such material that it can be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition, the ordinance states, with “at least one square feet of floor space for each mature pigeon.”

All feed would have to be “stored in such containers.”

“The fact that there was gonna be a limit on how many can be housed — that kind of talks to the issues of cleanliness and things like that,” Villegas said.

“That was not the main issue that some of the people were emailing me about. It was more about the treating of the pigeons and how they felt that this was cruel.”

Villegas said he has agreed to set up a meeting between the two sides to see if they can find some middle ground. But chances are, he’ll just drop it.

“This is not my top priority. I can tell you that. … I have bigger fish to fry for sure,” he said.

“I’m gonna at least have the meeting and have everyone talk. … Depending on the outcome of that, that will probably be the determining factor on which way I move forward. But, I have a lot more priorities pressing in the ward than this pigeon racing association.”

Middle-ground will be hard to find, if the letter to the editor written to the Chicago Sun-Times last month by Katie Anne O’Neil, a bird rescue volunteer for Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, is any indication.

O’Neil pointed to a 2012 PETA investigation that found that more than 60 percent of racing pigeons don’t make it back to their home lofts.

She argued that birds that don’t measure up to the standards set by pigeon-racing owners are “subject to abandonment and culling.”

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“If the city legalizes pigeon racing, it will be this organization and other bird advocacy groups that will be called upon to capture, treat and place the birds after they’re found emaciated and bleeding — at the expense of the organizations. Their resources are already stretched thin. And the birds that are rescued will be the lucky ones — many more won’t have a chance,” O’Neil wrote.

“Birds have an internal navigation system that’s still largely a mystery to us. Pigeons are intelligent birds that can recognize individual human faces. Domestically raised pigeons are affectionate companion animals and rewarding pets, not objects to be used for sport and then dumped like garbage.”