Lucky Lue, a white homing pigeon recently found it challenging to safely arrive home. He was lying in a park near Ann Arbor, Michigan and was evidently suffering from a lot of things.

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Lucky Lue’s body was full of lice and had worms, barely willing to survive. But now, people believe that he is a “dove release survivor.”

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The Fantasy

There are many places all over the country that provide the service of “dove release.” As the name suggests, in Dove Release, people bring homing pigeons to celebrations or memorials and release them, symbolizing peace or unity and, of course, take perfectly timed pictures.

The doves are expected to come back to a place determined early on, but it does not always happen the way it is expected.

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Homing pigeons are the birds which are not actual doves but are considered fine for dove release services by the American Dove Association (ADA).

“The white dove is not the same bird as the white homing pigeon … Ringneck doves do not have the homing instinct and should not be released in any situation,” the ADA wrote. “Any ringneck doves that are released will not be able to fly far and become easy prey for predators, nor will they be able to forage on their own.”

Sadly, Lucky Lue couldn’t make it to home even though he is a homing pigeon.

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But he is not the only one of his kind to get lost after being released in a wedding or a memorial. Neither are all of them as lucky as Lucky Lue.

Predators can easily attack them because of their pure white colour. Some die right after being released while others end up in shelters.

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Fortunately, a kind woman, offered to fly with Lucky Lue in an airplane to place him to his new home safely.

“Lucky Lue is flying here, first class, in [the] cabin on a plane,” said Kail Marie, the founder of Tallgrass Parrot Sanctuary, a rescue for unwanted pet birds in Lecompton, Kansas.

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It took a long appointment at the vet for testing disease, a flight, a night in a hotel, and a long drive for the homing pigeon to finally reach his new home.

“He will be another ‘house’ pigeon here with Solomah!” Marie said.

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Countless white homing pigeons and Lucky Lue prove how mistakes can happen even if the right kinds of birds are thrown in the sky.

“The reality is very different from the fantasy,” Elizabeth Young, founder and executive director of Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions, wrote.

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The Invisible “Doves”

Not much people know about hoe bad “dove release” can end up being, but Elizabeth Young knows them too well. Palomacy is a home-based foster care network that has 161 birds in its care and homed in 25 different houses and backyard aviaries. All those birds are waiting to be adopted to their forever homes.

“Our rescue is full of ‘dove release’ survivors who got lost, injured, starved or all of the above,” Young said. “And they are just the very lucky few. Most who get into trouble die alone, invisible.”

Young only recently rescued another dove release survivor from a California shelter.

A homing pigeon named Mackenzie was left in a small enclosure in an animal shelter after she was found on the ground in San Jose in October. Young had been trying to find a house to foster her as she waits to be adopted.

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“These domestic (unreleasable!) birds make amazing pets and our adopters love their birds,” Young said.

Finally, Young found a foster home for Mackenzie where several other foster pigeons were already living. Coincidentally, one of them is also a dove release survivor, just like Mackenzie.

“Mackenzie is … in an aviary hanging out with a ‘dove release’ survivor named Nessie who was blinded by being dyed green,” Young said.

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According to Young, these stories are essential, yet, are not heard by anyone. The ideologies about whether the dove releases are right or wrong are a moving target even in the industry. She points out how ADA’s strong stance against the releasing of actual doves is a recent development.

“The ‘dove release’ business owners lie … [They] will tell you they never lose a bird or ‘in 20 years, only one bird didn’t make it home’ — but that is absolutely untrue,” Young said. “It is a function of the practice — the loss is built in.”

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Some of the predators of these homing pigeons are hawks, ravens, seagulls, cats, rats, and racoons.

“Some aren’t killed outright but are spooked off course and get lost. Some are hit by cars,” Young said.

According to Young, even perfectly trained homing pigeons are inevitably lost.

“Even perfectly trained domestic pigeons are vulnerable when used to fly tens and sometimes hundreds of miles home from someplace they would never, by choice, be,” she said. “Lost and injured pigeons are inevitable.”

The Reality

The problems that come along with dove releases are not just limited there. The professional dove release service providers also inspire unprofessional attempts that has disastrous consequences. They don’t even use homing pigeons sometimes. Instead, they just use ringneck doves or white King pigeons who completely lack homing abilities.

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The first anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2002 is a good example of how the release of 80 baby squabs, instead of professional homing pigeons, ended up being a horrible event for these innocent birds.

Pure White

No one can say how many birds die due to the dove release events or the copycat releases because here is no real way to track them.

“How many ‘releases’ happen every day? How many birds are used in each? How many get lost and then make it home a few days later? How many get outright killed that no one ever sees?” Young said. “I have no way of knowing … We are only rescuing the tip of the iceberg.”

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Many injured white pigeons are identified as vermin.

“We can’t even get shelters to properly identify birds that are brought to them. Domestic pigeons are routinely mistaken for feral, pigeons are misidentified as doves, etc. etc.,” Young said. “Most people who find a pigeon never think to take it to a shelter because most shelters don’t help birds, and of those that do, many typically kill pigeons as ‘pests’ and ‘nuisance animals.’”

Sometimes, these birds go through such a brutal treatment as soon as they hatch.

“[Breeders] also cull/kill or discard the pigeon babies that hatch with colour splashes rather than all white,” Young said.

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Moreover, there are pigeons who are even bred for many human purposes. Not to mention, none of such birds is in any way skilled to survive in the wild, even if they somehow escape the trouble.

Young is, therefore, completely against the practice of keeping animals in captivity just for the entertainment of the humans.

“I loved SeaWorld as a kid but now, knowing what I do, I am sickened,” she said — and it’s also why she is trying to give happy endings to the birds who can be saved.

The Lucky One

Lucky Lue is now at his new home, with Solomah, another rescued pigeon at the sanctuary who recently started living indoors. Although she is allowing him to perch next to her she gets a little mean sometimes and gives Lucky Lue the “cold shoulder,” according to Marie.

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Mackenzie, too, is settling well in her foster home. She, along with 160 other doves and pigeons are looking forward to being adopted. We hope she gets adopted soon.

“Pigeons are incredibly intelligent, deeply emotional, gentle, loyal and loving,” Young said. “I have rescued more than 900 in the past 11 years and they continue to amaze me … When someone says they don’t like pigeons, I know they’ve never met one.”

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