October 12, 2011

Will Arlington's pigeon proposal make owners fly the coop?

Proposed changes in Arlington's animal control ordinance are ruffling some feathers in the racing pigeon community.

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ARLINGTON -- Proposed changes in Arlington's animal control ordinance are ruffling some feathers in the racing pigeon community.

This month, the City Council will review numerous revisions in the ordinance that city officials say are designed to protect animals and the people who might come in contact with them.

But racing pigeon enthusiasts in Arlington say a proposal to restrict the number of birds they could own would prevent them from competing in long-distance races.

"For us, it's more than a hobby. It's a full-time sport that's a passion to us," said Layne Miller, who has raised hundreds of racing pigeons at his southwest Arlington home in the past decade. "We live it and breathe it."

Miller and fellow longtime racing pigeon owner Walter Goodwin said they plan to fight the proposal, which if adopted would require them to apply for an annual permit and reduce their flocks to 25 or fewer. Miller, who owns more than 200 pigeons, said he has invested thousands of dollars in the sport, which takes him and his birds all over the state.

"Something like that would make me move out of the city ASAP," Miller said about possibly having to give up his birds. "This is too much government control."

Help in enforcement

Requiring a permit and annual inspection would help city officials ensure that the pigeons are well-maintained and kept in sanitary conditions, said Mike Bass, Code Compliance Services assistant director.

The ability to revoke that permit would also provide the city with an enforcement tool to address complaints from nearby residents, he said.

The push for stricter regulations came after one of Miller's neighbors began filing numerous complaints starting in 2007 about the smell of pigeon waste and birds landing on her house, fence and back yard instead of returning to their lofts. The city has had little means to address those complaints except through citations, Bass said.

"It appears that in this situation the pigeons aren't making direct entry into the coop," Bass said, adding that the city has not received complaints about Miller's birds recently.

Miller and Goodwin acknowledge that they have received complaints from neighbors but said they work to make sure the "racehorses of the airways" return to well-maintained lofts after daily exercise or training flights.

"I have had pigeons here for 41 years and nobody gripes about my birds," said Goodwin, who is raising about 100 pigeons at his east Arlington home. "I don't bother my neighbors."

Grandfather clause?

Goodwin, who has raised pigeons for 76 years and considers himself the oldest pigeon racer in Dallas-Fort Worth, said pigeon owners in Arlington should be grandfathered in and not affected by the proposed flock limits, which depending on property size would be 25, 50 or 75 birds.

He added that competitors need at least 15 to 20 birds per race and that many owners participate in three races at a time.

"We can't race with that small of a number," Goodwin said.

An Arlington council committee is set to further discuss animal ordinance amendments Oct. 25.

Other proposed changes would limit when and for how long a person could tether a dog; would make it illegal to sell or give away kittens and puppies at commercial parking lots; and would prevent new residents from bringing with them any dog that has been declared dangerous.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

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