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.