Note: Did you know that pigeons are one of the very first domesticated animals, used by people for sport, industry, testing, entertainment and meat for centuries? They are highly intelligent and like elephants, dolphins and chimps, have the ability to recognize themselves in mirrors. Pigeons are also completely devoted to their mate and offspring. They are smart, gentle, loyal creatures and they deserve so much better than they get from us. Here is a story about Elizabeth Young and her mission to save these amazing creatures.
It was never my intention to become a pigeon rescuer. I have always loved all animals and I just wanted to volunteer an hour or two a week at the San Francisco animal shelter. When I started, I was very surprised to discover that a kind of bird I’d never heard of- big, white King Pigeons- were coming in every week and being killed for lack of adopters. All of the other shelter animals, the dogs and cats and rabbits and parrots and rats and reptiles had rescue organizations to help them, but there was no rescue effort in place for the king pigeons.
I learned that King Pigeons are domestic birds bred for meat (also known as squab). They are taken from the nest and sold at the age of just four weeks at live poultry markets and while most are butchered, some are purchased to be “set free” or “released” ceremoniously. Because they are completely domestic, they have no wilderness survival skills and most are killed within hours or days by hawks, gulls, ravens, raccoons, cats, dogs and even mean people. But a few are found and taken in to animal shelters.
I regret to say that when I started volunteering, the first couple of King Pigeons came in (were killed) as usual. I did notice that they were there and that they were scared and I knew I’d never heard of them before but I didn’t know what to do about them or how to help them. You come in one shift and animals are there, you come in another and they’re not. Hopefully they got adopted, but sometimes they don’t.
One night when I came in, there was a King Pigeon named Gurumina. She was so big that she was in one of the rabbit cages instead of the usual bird cage. The rabbit cages are like stainless steel cupboards stacked one row on top of the other, each with a cage door. This huge pigeon was in there jumping up and down and she was so big that every jump made this big “boom” on the stainless steel. The other King Pigeons had always sat quietly frozen in the bird cages. They didn’t invite any kind of attention and, since they were obviously terrified, we didn’t give them any.
After I finished up my shift socializing rabbits, I hesitantly opened up Gurumina’s cage, figuring that she would become frightened. Instead, it was exactly what she had been asking for and she calmly stepped out on my arm. She clearly had been somebody’s very tame pet. She trusted people. I realized that she was likely going to be killed for lack of an adopter and that would be murder. I knew that I could help Gurumina find a great home. She was smart and sweet and lovely. So I did.
I reached out to the biggest and best bird rescue in the Bay Area- Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue- for their support and guidance and they were very welcoming. Within a month, we had placed Gurumina with a wonderful adopter (with whom she still lives now- five years later).
But what about the other King Pigeons that came in? What would happen to them? They came in sick and scared and dirty but Gurumina had taught me who they really were. They wanted to live too. I decided not to turn my back on them. The next King that came in was a mess. She was very frightened and wing-punched at every approach. She always used her left wing so I named her Rocky.
And that is how I became a pigeon rescuer. I took Rocky home to foster and then Sugar and Stretch and Jesse and Hollywood and, as many as we found homes for, there were more right behind them. I created an independent department within Mickaboo called MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue and since 2007, with the help of a lot of volunteers, we have saved the lives of more than 500 beautiful, smart, innocent birds that otherwise would have been killed just for lack of a home.
For the pigeons, there was a gap in the animal rescue community but I was inspired by all the work that the other rescues like SaveABunny and Rocket Dog and Toni’s Kitten Rescue and MickaBoo were doing. If they hadn’t been saving all the other animals, I would have just fled from the shelter in despair. But, because they were rescuing all the other animals, I stayed and started rescuing pigeons. They are no less worthy of care and compassion than any one.
For more information visit MickaCoo’s site.