Pigeon racing is a hobby that fosters some $15 million a year in unlawful gambling countrywide and involves the killing of thousands of birds. This and more was discovered by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who exposed the cruelty and corruption of this practice after a 15-month undercover investigation.
The animal rights group presented law enforcement organaizations including the FBI with a book's worth of evidence of what its lawyers say are illegalities in the pigeon racing "sport." But the messy details are particularly disturbing:
The races involve trained homing pigeons, who are driven hundreds of miles away from their home environments and released. The bird that flies home the quickest wins. This initially seems innocent enough, but investigators learned that in many races - most of which are 600 plus miles - over 60 percent of the birds get lost or die from harsh weather, predators, hunters, electrical lines, or mere exhaustion.
Furthermore, some activists believe that the deliberate separation of a pigeon from its home and family causes severe emotional trauma; this could also play a factor in some of the birds' deaths while in transit.
Supporting this, said PETA, is the fact that, "Pigeons are complex problem-solvers and have tested even higher than cats, dogs, and primates on intelligence tests. They are loyal mates and doting parents - the mothers and fathers take turns caring for their hatchlings. Pigeon racers exploit these qualities by removing birds from their mates and babies so that they will be frantic and fly home faster. Once the racing season is complete and the babies are no longer needed, they're often killed."
Indeed, the group's undercover probe obtained audial and visual evidence that only 40 percent of pigeons that were raced survived.
In addition to the abuse, pigeon racing organizations - in particular the Bronx Homing Pigeon Club - secretly dish out hundreds of thousands of dollars for winning bets on races. In New York, where that club is located, a horse is the only animal that can be legally raced for gambling purposes.
"The clubs are nothing but unlawful racketeering enterprises," argued PETA lawyer Jeff Kerr.
"There was just constant gambling going on," agreed an investigator, who desired to remain anonymous. "It's pretty flagrant. They're gambling on these animals' lives."
Finally, birds in the race who aren't considered fast or healthy enough, are killed in a variety of ways, each more horrific and sadistic than the next: decapitation, suffocation, neck-breaking, and drowning.
Though this investigation and exposure highlighted a very real threat to these birds, it's not the only ongoing example of severe animal cruelty.
The NRA commonly holds pigeon shoots, which involve trapping thousands of live city pigeons and trucking them back to the town where the event takes place. They are then released from boxes, where people can shoot them - taking these animals' lives as - for the shooters - an amusing form of target practice.
"Each pigeon shoot teaches children that violence and animal cruelty are acceptable practices," remarked Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the Humane Society.
It seems that pigeon shoots - as with other questionable gun usage - will remain active in many states for the time being. However, if authorities take the evidence against many pigeon racing outfits seriously, it will send a clear message to organizations like the Bronx Homing Pigeon Club: "Your race is run."
Photo: A pigeon club releases racing pigeons. Jaqian/Wikipedia