Sunday, October 27, 1996
Ahwatukee, Apache Junction, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, Scottsdale, Tempe, and the East and Northeast Valley

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  • No penalty for fowl

    "Looks like it's OK to kill a pigeon out in Gilbert, but it's called cruel if you kill a cat," writes columnist David Leibowitz.  "You know what I think -- pigeons really get a bum rap in this country."

    By David Leibowitz

    No ducking it, pigeons get bum rap

    by David Leibowitz
    Tribune Writer
    Sunday, October 27, 1996

    [Gilbert, Arizona -] Clearly there's a moral to the story, a point about our society that desperately needs making.

    I'm speaking of the teenage sickos of Gilbert, the five kids who turned our collective stomach for the past few days.  You know the ones -- the alleged cat and pigeon killers.

    Their tale began two Thursdays back, on the eve of the annual Highland-Gilbert football game.  Three Highland students thought it would be funny to kill a pair of cats as the story goes, and hang them over at Gilbert, home of the Tigers.  Meanwhile, across town, two Gilbert kids thought it would be a hoot to shoot a pair of pigeons in the back of the head then string the bird corpses up for the Highland Hawks.

    Hardy freakin' har har.

    In both cases, we're looking at a joke with all the inherent funniness of the J.D. Hayworth-Steve Owens race for Congress, or the prospect of a job as Charlie Keating's new PR flack.  Sick, sick, sick, is what I mean.

    We're also looking at a rather skewed message to the citizenry.

    See, the trio of accused cat killers have been charged -- and rightfully so -- with cruelty to animals by the Gilbert police.  And the busted pigeon murderers, you ask?

    Only trespassing.

    The reasons for this inequity are two, it would appear.  First, the birds in question were pets of one of the little delinquents, which gives them more leeway where committing mayhem is concerned.  Second, it seems that our pair of heroes have legal precedent on their side.

    "They won't prosecute," explains Gilbert Detective Ken Pixel, "because shooting a pigeon in the back of the head isn't cruel mistreatment....  That's the way the courts see it....  It's really strange."

    I'll say.

    And I'll also say this: Pigeons, our winged friends, get absolutely no respect.  Not a whit.

    This explains why I'm taking drastic action on the subject of pigeons' rights.  It would be easy to merely moan and whine in print, but this story requires something a little extra, something with oomph and a catchy nickname.  

    I'm thinking a collective, one that would lobby to see that pigeons get treated with all the respect usually accorded those four-pawed head cases with tails.  I'm thinking a pigeons' rights group.

    I'm thinking People Opposed to Offing Pigeons.

    You know -- POOP

    It's time.

    Look, maybe you buy into the whole "sky rat" rap on Columbia livia, that pigeons are a nasty, statue defiling form of flying vermin, but we POOPers certainly don't think so. Heck, I grew up in New York City -- I didn't even know there was another 

    TONY BLEI/Tribune
    Dave Roth, President of the Urban Wildlife Society, shows off a few of the more than 200 pigeons under his care.
    kind of bird besides the pigeon until I was 13 years old. And I'm hardly alone -- listen to Dave Roth, president of the Valley's Urban Wildlife Society and the proud owner of five pet pigeons, including "Gordo," he of the three-foot wingspan.

    "Pigeons are just like cats and dogs. They're very good companion animals," says Roth.  "After you have them as pets, if you have half a conscience, you can't stand to see what happens to them.  When I watch TV at night, I have a pigeon or two sitting on my lap, being very sweet and loving."

    And there's Dr. Robert Ohmart, head of Arizona State University's Center for Environmental Studies.

    "They have a lot of redeeming qualities," says the professor.  They bring avian life into our inner cities, where the habitats are no longer present for native species.  I think they're an important part of having life around us."

    Hey, forget all these opinions -- allow me to baffle you with some little known pigeon stuff:

    Pigeon enthusiast Pablo Picasso named his daughter Paloma, Spanish for pigeon.

    Famed researcher B.F. Skinner proved that pigeons' learning abilities reflect those of higher animals, including humans.

    Back during World War I, a pigeon named Cher Ami -- French for "dear friend" -- was credited with saving an entire battalion of U.S. troops, despite having a leg shot off for its trouble.  Seems the bird flew across enemy lines bearing a message that our boys were accidentally being shelled by Allied forces.  Its body -- along with the wooden leg the pigeon received as an honor -- can be seen at the Smithsonian.

    I kid you not.

    Pigeons aren't all bad, understand, and They definitely don't deserve a shot to the back of the head from some prankster.  Consider that the mission statement of POOP, my friends.  And consider this as well:  Depending on the teens' prior records, County Attorney Richard Romley may still be able to override the Gilbert PD and file cruelty to animals charges against the accused pigeon killers.

    Message to the top prosecutor:  Sir, I'd suggest you either join POOP or get off the pot.