Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Dove Factory

This is a very late third part of a three part series... For the first two, see Part 1 Going to Be With my Peeps and Part 2 The Funny Farm

I wasn't sure what a dove release business that had thousands of birds in its inventory and provided a thousand dove release for the opening Dodgers game every year would look like. I imagined a big gray hanger-like building made for manufacturing doves. But when our National White Dove Release Society annual meeting group for 2013 pulled up to Pastor Luther Nelson's house in a quiet pretty suburban town of Hacienda Heights outside of Los Angeles, there was not a loft to be seen. 

Luther and his wife, Susie, owners of White Dove Release, warmly welcomed us as we exited the old folks van. We had stopped to pick up lunch from a nearby hamburger joint, which we were able to enjoy in the beautiful shaded back yard, between the house and an attractive shed with trellises on the side and a pigeon weather vane on top. A clue, perhaps?

After lunch, Luther began the highly anticipated tour  - with the shed, which turned out to be a rectangular loft with a courtyard. Luther is very efficient with his loft setup. The ceilings are low in order to help round up birds. The nest boxes are open. Some birds have colored felt tip notations on their foreheads to differentiate them quickly. There is no actual catching of birds - you start at one end and move them down loft section by loft section, sliding the doors behind you, until they are all in the  holding section. Then, they wheel up an 8 foot training box and line it up with a hole in the wall, and once opened on both ends, they can just walk the birds through. Much less stressful for the birds, I would think.

All the feed goes in a container in the courtyard, which allows for a bucket to be setup underneath and feed dumped into it. The loft feed trays are opened from the outside and even have a section for grit.

Luther actually started dove releases in the late '80s. As his business grew and neighbors moved, he was able to pick up a couple of neighboring properties. Next on the tour was a shed on a neighboring lot that housed his baskets. Yes, just baskets - wicker and rectangular which he had custom made. The carpenter manually spaced the dowels so as not to leave enough room for the birds to stick their heads out. There was no handle on top, so they could be nicely stacked, and the top door pushed in instead of lifting up, making it much easier to put the birds in.

We toured the rest of the lofts. There was a bug spray system to contain flies. There was a section of two specialty breeds being bred to make a new breed, which was overseen by the autistic helper. Then there was the Hollywood loft - full of racers that resemble street pigeons on the ready for when the movie people call. A garage held bags and bags of feed.

Back inside the house we were treated to a few videos, some of releases and one in which Luther was interviewed. We heard the script they used for funeral services, which in part said that a home has been prepared for so and so, just like a home is waiting for the birds. Someone asked, what if they request a non -religious service? Luther said, "Well that can be awkward, but I suppose Hell is a place." Luther graciously answered several more questions about his large operation. Generally speaking, in order to have an operation of this magnitude, you need three ingredients: a highly populated release area, people with disposable income, and nice weather most of the year. Funerals are the bread and butter of his business, as proven by their schedule for the next day - 8 planned. 

At last, we were led outside for the grand finale: a dove release (see the video) for the dove releasers! And not the kind that we are used to providing. All during the tour, his loft manager and other staff were gathering up flyers, and had them in a holding station. Cameras ready, they opened the doors and once the birds started coming out it was a seemingly unending stream. Soon there were over 500 rock doves soaring though the skies over Luther's house! Amazing. 

With all the excitement, we forgot to get a group photo and piled back in the van to the hotel. A few of us that were left walked to the restaurant next door and snapped a photo there. Another successful dove release conference was coming to a close. Armed with visions of dove releases and future bookings, we parted ways, as the dove flies.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Funny Farm

This actually wasn't my first dove release conference. About this time last year I had headed to Slidell, LA for the annual meeting. And while I was a bit apprehensive, a few of the members picked me up at the airport and were so welcoming. As a newcomer this year, Doris' sister-in-law Eileen told her daughter how nice and friendly everyone was and she responded, "How could dove people not be nice?" It's true.

So it was great to see several familiar, friendly faces at the hotel breakfast. Dolly was the host this year, and her husband, Ritchie, picked us up in a van meant to transport old folks around. While none of us are in wheel chairs yet, we ambled into the van with our extra sweaters as it was chilly. Despite the high temperature predicted to be in the low 70s; Antelope Valley was windy, dry and dusty; and when it wasn't hitting 70 in the sun, it was more like low 50s.

From the dinosaurs that welcomed us at the entrance, to the alien in the shed, Dolly and Ritchie's farm was well-kept and loaded with stuff. Neat stuff. In the back, we could see horses and goats and sheep. Dolly and Ritchie offer a mobile petting zoo. And in addition to dove releases, they provide horse drawn carriage rides for weddings. There is even a mustang; Ford, that is, in one of the many trailers neatly placed on the property. Of course: Ritchie is also a race car driver!

Tables were set up for us to have our meeting outside. Doesn't this sound nicer than a hotel banquet room? After a three hour meeting discussing ways to help market our services for weddings and funerals, and how to be able to get more members together despite the distances between us, we broke for lunch ... and baby feeding. We had been hearing the cries of baby goats, pigs and sheep looking for their next meal.  Dolly brought out warm bottled milk and allowed us to assist in the feedings.

After lunch, there was a well-anticipated lesson from Doris in Vermont on how to tube feed a pigeon. (I thought I was video taping the whole thing to share only to discover that when I stopped the video, I was starting the video. How embarrassing.) You really have to experience it and several of us had a go at it on a somewhat patient pigeon patient to practice on. By the time I got to try it though, he'd had enough and threw up on me. It was good, though, to see how to potentially save a baby pigeon's life, if for one reason or another, the parents are not feeding the baby. Doris taught herself how to do this and was happy to share what she learned.

Next, a couple from the local pigeon racing club came to give a presentation and answer questions. Even though I have the benefit of being married to a pigeon racer (did I just write that?), it was very helpful to hear their thoughts and experiences, as everyone manages their loft and birds a little bit differently.

It was time to wind down with a hay ride by Ritchie and two gorgeous blond horses with bells on their heads, bickering as they carried us around the neighborhood of unpaved streets, Joshua trees, barking dogs, and fences.

No rest for the weary: after the hay ride, Ritchie begins to prepare the trailer hitch grill for steaks and Dolly is saving burning briquets to make peach cobbler in a dutch oven. A tall cowboy shows up who just happens to be an accomplished magician, and we will be treated to magic while we eat at beautifully set tables in the yard.

I took a break from it all and went to call Steve. As I was placing the call, I felt eyes on me. I turned to look, and a stranger was taking me in. I wasn't sure if I should run. But he wasn't moving very fast so I took a deep breath and got a little closer. Turns out he had just woken up and was in the mood to talk. He was so ugly that he was cute, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him. He was Henry, a very charming 16 year old miniature pot-bellied pig.

It was a magical day but time to retreat to the hotel. After all, we are going to see Luther tomorrow, the owner of the largest dove release company in the US, if not the world.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Going to Be With My Peeps

I was looking out the window of the plane somewhere over Arizona wondering what in the world I was doing flying across the country for a white dove release conference. You've never heard of a conference for white dove releasers? Really? OK I hadn't either. At my real job, a business conference means joining thousands of other internet professionals in one area of the country to learn about the ever changing facets of internet marketing. Now, I was joining about ten, oh wait, nine other members of this group from all over the country. Not to say it isn't a growing industry. There are new businesses joining the National White Dove Release Society all the time. With all they represent, releasing white doves is steeped in tradition, and as awareness grows, demand does too. But it is grown primarily from a love and fascination of the birds, and a desire to share it in important moments in people's lives. Read between the lines... don't quit your day job. It can be a struggle to take the time off or pay the travel expenses to go to the annual meeting so it does tend to be a small group.

So I was extremely grateful for this opportunity. But I was going by myself. My husband begged off as it was his first opportunity to be home for a while. That's what he told me at least, but he's a pigeon racer, and "their" birds (racing pigeons AKA rock doves) fly twice as fast and three times as far as our special occasion pure white ones (racing pigeons AKA rock doves). But he was home to take care of our animals, so I excused him as such to my NWDRS friends.

So here I am flying to the left coast, by myself as I might have mentioned, and then I made the flight attendant mad. Now that is a sin in my family as my oldest sister has been one for over 30 years. But it wasn't my fault. And I'll explain it to her. And she'll be on my side. I'm sure of it.

Anyway, I was anxiously anticipating picking up the rental car and driving an hour in strange darkness to the hotel (arriving after midnight EST).Has anyone else noticed that when you rent a car, especially a brand spankin' new one with 44 miles on it, that you've forgotten how to drive? And since I've been with Steve, I don't drive as much. Especially rental cars.

So yeah I was scared. Releasing birds is a part-time gig; albeit, a fun one. But I knew I wasn't giving it the attention they deserved and it was time for a road trip to meet some like minded white dove releasing, homing pigeon fanciers. Out of my comfort zone? Yes. But as they say, that's where the magic happens.

To be continued...