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Don't do this: Pope Francis allows dove release that ends badly

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Sometimes the most benign acts with the best of intentions don’t work out right.

After Pope Francis said a prayer for peace, he watched two children release a couple of white doves from the Vatican window on Sunday, in a symbolic gesture of goodwill.

The crowd was horrified when the doves came under immediate attack by a seagull and a crow, apparently thinking they were being treated to a holy supper.

In spite of freeing themselves, minus a few feathers, it is unlikely the doves survived.

Experts say without training and banding, which would afford the birds some ability to make it to safety, it is quite simply inhumane to release them to almost certain predation and death.

The release of doves at weddings and funeral are mostly done by contracted companies that predominately use trained homing pigeons. People who choose to save a few dollars by purchasing doves from a pet store to release them into the wild, without any ability to find food or survive attacks from predators—are either misinformed or cold hearted.

“It happens too frequently,” said Kathy Dusart, the president of the White Dove Release Professionals after a careless 2009 incident in New York. “They don’t understand there is a difference in the birds.”

Specially trained white racing pigeons are the preference over smaller, more docile white doves. The pigeons are about twice the size of doves, which makes them less appealing for attackers of the crow and seagull variety.

In contrast, white doves are not trained and don’t have the ability to outfly or fend off attackers.

“When they turn the birds loose, they don’t have anywhere to go,” Ms. Dusart said. “Plus, they are very weak fliers, they usually end up as hawk food or owl food.”

Regarding Pope Francis and his unintentional release of two doves to be plucked and terrorized by bigger birds, which likely traumatized the two children for life, Ben Milne noted a tragic comparison in his BBC News Magazine piece.

“For many years the Olympic opening ceremony included the symbolic release of doves. But at Seoul in 1988, the doves were released shortly before the Olympic flame was lit. Unfortunately, several of the poor creatures were still milling around the area of the cauldron, with fatal results. The headlines were cruel if inevitable: ‘When doves fry.’”

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