Lancaster health board rules in favor of pigeon fancier

A flap over pet pigeons has been resolved peacefully in Lancaster.

The city health board approved a measure exempting a man who raises pigeons - some of them national champions - from a local ordinance that banned their ownership, according to the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal/Lancaster New Era.

Lancaster resident John Kirchner had asked for the exemption for his "parlor" pigeons, who are kept in a backyard coop, after an enforcement effort started in December. City officials said resident complaints were behind the stepped-up enforcement of a 1997 health ordinance.

The Intelligencer wrote a touching portrait of another lifelong fancier last year in a feature story about the conflict between the city and pigeon lovers. It mentions a decades-old state law saying pigeons may be kept in urban areas with a permit. But the city law does not mention pigeons. 

Mayor Rick Gray - who initially said the city needed to enforce the ordinance - ended up rallying to Kirchner's defense and sending the health board a letter on his behalf.

New pigeon-keepers can ask for a similar waiver.

Kirchner told the paper that pigeon raising is a dying hobby. You wouldn't know that by googling the National Pigeon Assocation which held its national show featuring 6,500 pigeons in Lancaster in 2009  - and other pigeon websites.

A banded racing pigeon paid a visit to my farm a few years ago. Fearing that it might be lost or injured I googled pigeon racing and up popped Pigeon 911, a kind of pigeon lost and found site dedicated to sharing information about pigeons that may have flown off course become injured or died in a competition.

Of course, the website said to check the band number and report it. Not wanting to try to capture a bird that, it turned out, wasn't injured, we didn't.

The beautiful reddish brown and white bird stayed over night and vanished the next day, leaving us with a mystery about where he had come from and where he was going.

It's striking how one municipality can act to protect someone's right to raise pigeons while some county prosecutors seek only to protect the rights of individuals to kill the birds.

I speak of Bucks and Berks county where those who participate in the mass slaughter of pigeons in pigeon shoot competitions most weekends enjoy the protection of local district attorneys - namely David Heckler and John Adams respectively - who have blocked attempts by animal welfare advocates to file animal cruelty charges. 

Efforts to ban pigeon shoots by legislation continue in the state General Assembly. Animal welfare advocates won a victory last fall when Senate bill 626 passed out of committee - the first such bill of its kind to clear a committee in two decades. The bill, now awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, would prohibit using trapped or blocked live animals as shooting targets