- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

GREENFIELD, Ind. (AP) - It’s the kind of hobby you have to defend - almost before you do anything else.

Chuck Whiting knows that. After all, raising pigeons isn’t exactly a typical hobby.

For many, just the thought evokes images of city street scavengers swooping through grime-covered alleys and picking at garbage, stopping for a bath in a puddle of rainwater ringed with gasoline.

Whiting greets such imagery with a good-natured smile. He’s heard it all before, of course - and he knows differently.

The long drive leading to Whiting’s rural Greenfield home is marked “Pigeon Lane,” a testament to his love of the birds he says have a bad rap they don’t deserve.

“They’re loveable; they’re sweet; they are excellent parents,” he told the Daily Reporter (https://bit.ly/1skimv5 ). “They have their own specific personalities.”

Can pigeons carry disease? Of course, Whiting said. But if they’re kept clean, they pose no more risk for owners than any other animal, he said.

“(People) can get sick from raising dogs and cats,” he said. “They can get sick from raising goldfish. Keep the birds healthy, and you’ll stay healthy.”

According to the Urban Wildlife Society, pigeons pose little danger to public health. While they may carry disease, they rarely transmit illness to people, the society reports.

Whiting is what is known as a “pigeon-fancier,” and for the retired recreation therapist, rescuing, raising and selling the birds has become more a way of life than a hobby.

On a recent afternoon outside his Greenfield home, Whiting released a few of the birds into the air, explaining how each has its own pattern of tumbling with the wind - “showing off,” he called it.

Of course, he can’t finish that story without starting in on one about the pigeon that flew the coop for a few days, only to return missing a few tail feathers.

“You’re getting off track again, Charles,” quipped his wife, Joyce, who has grown used to her husband’s antics.

Whiting’s passion began as little more than a school project - a study in taxidermy, of all things - when he was 11 years old.

His first task for the class was to stuff a pigeon, which meant the real first task was to kill it.

He went to Mishawaka and bought a pigeon. But that was as far as he got.

“And I kept him, and I kept him, and I kept him,” Whiting said. “And I couldn’t kill him. Couldn’t do it.”

It’s hard to believe, looking at the coop full of pigeons Whiting maintains today, to believe it all started with just one bird.

By the time Whiting was a senior in high school, he had 150. He built a crude pen with fence posts and chicken wire.

His mother was tickled by the project; his father just raised an eyebrow.

In 1985, Whiting began showing the birds.

He studied the books and learned which marking and body sizes and posture caught the judges’ eyes.

It’s a talent he has since passed on to local 4-H’ers as superintendent of the poultry project.

Gabriel Cochard, 15, remembers the first time his mother suggested he chat with Whiting about pigeons.

The Cochards had recently gotten rid of their chickens, and Gabriel’s mother thought her son might be interested in similar projects.

But Gabriel had the same reaction Whiting hears all the time.

“I gave her a look like ‘Mom, those are city birds; they’re filthy,’” Gabriel said.

But his mother gave him Whiting’s number and made him call, anyway.

That was four years ago. Gabriel and his younger brother have been raising and showing the birds ever since.

The family has about 30 pigeons.

Gabriel defends the project as fervently as his mentor. He’s used to people turning up their noses at the hobby.

“They’re actually cleaner than most of us people,” Gabriel said.

Pigeons have a tendency to get dirty, but they also will bathe themselves regularly when provided with fresh water, Gabriel added.

“They want to be clean,” he said. “They don’t want to be dirty.”

The pen where Whiting keeps his prized birds isn’t just a sanctuary for the pigeons but for the man who raises them.

It’s a place to escape when life gets a little too hectic. There among the birds, Whiting always feels at home.

“They’re mine, and they love me,” he said. “Any time I get down or think I’m gonna be depressed, I just go out there and sit a little bit. Everything’s fine.”

___

Information from: (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, https://www.greenfieldreporter.com

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