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Squamish council urged to enact bylaw against sporting pigeons

Manager of Sea to Sky BC SPCA highlights the issue of sporting pigeons in town and urges the municipality to implement a bylaw to address the problem.

As they have for the last few years, sporting pigeons, specifically Indian high flyers, continue to be an issue in Squamish. 

Krista Larson, manager of the Sea to Sky BC SPCA in Squamish, presented to council about the issue on July 4, calling on the municipality to enact a bylaw to help combat the problem.  

"They basically are a domestic pigeon and they're often dyed different colours — pink, blue, green and red for the most part," Larson explained. "So our concern is that sporting pigeons are being lost and abandoned in Squamish and they're not being claimed by their owners … Sporting pigeons ... are not equipped to survive in the wild."

What is the sport?

Larson said the sport involves releasing the dyed pigeons into the air and seeing whose bird can fly the highest. 

"So, they don't really go any distance. It all has to do with basically vertically how high they can go," she said. "Unfortunately, what happens is these birds don't come back necessarily and [some] get lost and they get dispersed."

Larson said that the birds can die of starvation or are preyed upon by eagles, hawks or other animals. 

"They basically do not know how to forage or find their own food and water, so often they die horrible, lingering deaths," she added. 

The birds can also transmit pathogens and diseases — such as salmonella, E. coli and avian flu — to wild or domestic birds or humans.

These birds are typically being brought to Squamish from places like the Fraser Valley for sport racing. They are not being kept or raced by locals, according to Larson.

She noted that many in the community think that the SPCA should take in these birds, but while they do take in stray domestic birds, that is not possible for these pigeons.

"Housing a large bird like a pigeon, in general, is very challenging because they need a lot of space to be able to provide their proper welfare," she said. "And we have fairly strict restrictions right now in place because of the avian flu. So, in order for us to take in a domestic bird, we have to be able to isolate it in a room on its own for 14 days or until it's picked up by the owner. With multiple pigeons, that is absolutely impossible for us to do."

Larson said some of the pigeons will have a leg band that should reveal the owner, but that information is not always included. 

Several members of the public wrote to the District concerned about these pigeons, including Randi Olson, founder and admin of the popular Sea to Sky Neighborhood Animals Needing Assistance Facebook page, which helps folks find lost pets.

"I am not sure what the District of Squamish can do. I hope this can somehow be banned so that bylaw [officers] can be called if they are spotted. It is not fair that these sweet little birds have to pay the price for human ignorance," Olson wrote in a letter published in the July 4 council agenda.

Larson noted that other municipalities have bylaws to help prevent this abuse. 

Delta, she said, has one of the most comprehensive bylaws in this regard. 

"We would recommend a similar approach for Squamish as it would cover people who don't live in Squamish bringing pigeons into the community for competitions," she said. 

At the July 4 meeting, council  passed a motion for staff to bring back a recommendation regarding the  municipality’s regulatory ability when it comes to pigeon racing in Squamish. 

“Staff will look into options for regulating pigeon racing within the District boundary. Any bylaw for consideration will likely not come back to council until mid-fall,” wrote District spokesperson Rachel Boguski in an email to The Squamish Chief.  

Larson said anyone who sees one of these birds should still call the BC SPCA Animal Helpline at 1-855-622-7722.

Officers will try to make contact with the owner of the bird if that information is known.

"Definitely if anybody sees anything, video is an absolutely amazing way to get some sort of evidence and they can call our animal helpline and they'll be helped that way," she said.

Watch the video of the meeting on the District's YouTube channel.

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