FALL 1994

An Interview with Dave Roth, Founder and President of the
Urban Wildlife Society

Hot Look:  What is the Urban Wildlife Society?

Dave Roth:  Well, by now it seems like a pigeon protection organization because we devote so much time to their defense.  Our mission is also to promote appreciation for all the animals that share the city and suburbs with us.  You hear so much about saving the whales and the rainforests, and deservedly so, but, to us a life is a life and the common species warrant concern and compassion as much as any other sentient beings.  Our culture seems to overly value rarity.  If pigeons were scarce, for example, they would enjoy the same protection as eagles and condors.  Just look at what happened to the passenger pigeons.  They would darken the sky for hours during their migrations -- and now there are none.

Hot Look:  How did you get involved with wildlife?

Dave Roth:  I am ashamed to say that I used to take pot shots at the pigeons on my roof.  Luckily, I wasn't trying to be a very good shot.  And one day, about five years ago -- I don't remember exactly how it happened -- a sweet little pigeon decided to adopt me.  I thought it was pretty cool that something as flighty as a bird could actually trust a human.  Little by little, we became close friends.  I really looked forward to going outside on mild spring mornings with my cup of coffee and being greeted by my darling little dove.  She would land on my shoulder, coo in my ear, and preen the hair on my neck -- and all for a few pieces of dog food.  That changed my whole attitude about what I was raised to believe.

Hot Look:  Why so much emphasis on pigeons?

Dave Roth:  I think it is because most people don't know much about the Rock Doves we call pigeons.  I never would have guessed that they are so warm and fuzzy.  I now have pigeons at my home as pets and they're as good companions as a dog or cat.  They sit on my lap and love to be petted and they follow me from room to room like little winged puppies.

Hot Look:  Aren't they messy?

Dave Roth:  No messier than any other bird. I trained them not to poop on  people and, when they are fed what they're supposed to eat, their droppings are small, dry, and easy to clean up -- just like a parrot's.  It seems a bit hypocritical to complain about a few droppings when we as humans foul things on a global scale.  Speaking about wasting our world, since I invite pigeons to my home, I'm far more conscious and careful about how I treat my surroundings.  I don't drain anti-freeze into the storm drain, I don't use dangerous pesticides, and I am careful what I leave lying around because I don't want my feathered friends to get sick -- or worse.  Perhaps if everyone cared about the birds, we would have a healthier planet.

Hot Look:  Talking about health, aren't pigeons hazardous to your health?  Don't they carry a lot of diseases?

Dave Roth:  That's certainly what I was misled to believe.  In fact, local and state health department officials say their records show no cases of diseases transmitted from pigeons to humans throughout recorded history -- none, zero, zip, nada -- never, ever.  Even the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta reports that there is no reason to fear pigeons.  Pest control companies perpetuate the myth so they can line their pockets with your money by brutally murdering these defenseless little creatures.

Hot Look:  You sound rather upset about that.

Dave Roth:  Well, I respect people who don't want pigeons around.  After all, I was one of them.  What is upsetting is the senseless waste of precious life.  You see, trying to remove pigeons from an area just doesn't work.  Pigeons congregate for three reasons: food, water, and shelter.  Poisoning them simply creates vacancies for pigeons from the surrounding area to fill.  If the ledges, nooks, and crannies on buildings are ramped, obstructed, screened, or blocked off, pigeons won't be able to nest or roost there.  If palm trees are kept trimmed and pet and other food made unavailable, the birds would become scarcer in that area.  Of course, keep in mind that pigeons are a lot of fun for people and many want them around.  Pigeons are often the only nonhuman life in some otherwise bleak urban landscapes.

Hot Look:  You touched upon controlling pigeons.  Do you have some specific suggestions?

Dave Roth: Yes.  The bird exterminators and trappers won't like this because the solutions can be so simple -- as simple as feeding your dog inside or stretching Slinky toys across beams or ledges where the birds roost.  Killing the birds is similar to bailing out a boat without fixing the hole in the bottom.  Kill some birds, others take their place.  That is why so many pest control companies love to poison the pigeons -- at a few hundred dollars a whack, several times a year, year after year.  What a horrible travesty that is.  It just breaks my heart to see the needless suffering these birds go through -- sometimes for as long as 48 hours before they shudder and gasp their last breath.

Hot Look:  You talk about poisoning.  Is this common?

Dave Roth: Judging from the calls I get from shocked, saddened, or infuriated customers, tenants, or neighbors in effected areas, I estimate that hundreds of thousands of birds are brutally murdered in the Phoenix metro area every year.  Now, if poisoning is supposed to work so well, why are there still so many pigeons?  If left alone, the pigeon population limits itself to whatever the nesting sites will support.  That is why we are not up to our necks in pigeons.  That is why habitat modification works so well.  Think about it.  The reason most endangered species become that way is because man is destroying their habitat.  Poisoning is also indiscriminate.  Poisoned birds can fly far after ingesting their last supper.  Cats, dogs, and other nontarget animals, or even children, could get sick or die from eating the lethal carrion.  And what about the babies -- terrified and lonely in their nests -- who slowly, so painfully slowly, starve to death?

On a different note, but an important one, many birds and other animals succumb to diseases from tainted water.  If you have a fountain or other water that birds drink, put one teaspoon of laundry bleach into each gallon -- or one teaspoon of pool shock per 13 gallons of water, preferably every day, or twice a day if the water is in direct sunlight.  You will help save a lot of lives.

Hot Look:  What would you like for the future?

Dave Roth: Foremost, I would wish that everyone could share the joy and friendship I get from our nonhuman earthmates.  Sacrificing life in the interest of materialism can lead to a shallow and lonely existence.  There's so much wonder to behold in the urban nature we so take for granted.  I would also like to see harmless and practical birth control developed for birds and other urban wildlife whose only fault is their successes at surviving and thriving in the world we built for them.  We will be ardently pursuing that goal.

Note: Dave Roth is a native Phoenician, former firefighter, and businessman.  He formed the pigeon coalition and successfully lobbied the county to employ the most effective and harmless pigeon control methods at the Madison Street jail, saving taxpayers more than a million dollars over the projected life of the building.

The Urban Wildlife Society has never sought nor received funding, and their survival depends upon it.  If you would like to help, contact Dave Roth, the Urban Wildlife Society, 717 West Cambridge Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona, 85007, phone 265-4320.

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