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Politics & Government

Animal Protection Bills Advance In City Council

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Flickr user the yellowrider
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For many, pigeons are pests. Woody Allen called them “rats with wings” in the 1980 film Stardust Memories.

And according to Rebecca Reid with the animal advocacy group Humane Options Pittsburgh, that’s how the state and federal governments see them as well. Pigeons, or rock doves, are one of just three species not protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“The three species that are not protected are (house) sparrows, (European) starlings and (common) pigeons,” Reid said. “According to the (Pennsylvania) Game Commission … they view them like rats. They do not have any protection.”

They may soon have protections in the city of Pittsburgh, as City Council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to legislation that would prohibit the capture of wild birds anywhere in the city.

Sponsor Councilwoman Darlene Harris said current city code outlaws the capture of wild animals in parks, but that elsewhere in the city, pigeons are regularly being trapped.

“These pigeons are sold to gun clubs where they are held in inhumane conditions,” she said. “They are tossed in the air one by one and shot for sport.”

Harris said that often birds are not immediately killed upon being shot, and that they are “being beaten, stomped on and having their necks snapped.”

According to Reid, New York and Philadelphia have both banned the capture of wild birds and “Pittsburgh’s become the new hub for this little industry.”

Live pigeon shooting is a controversial practice; many states have fully outlawed the practice. The International Olympic Committee discontinued the sport after the 1900 Olympics, and even Bob Barker of The Price Is Right fame has gotten in on the act, recording a video for the animal advocacy group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK.

Legislation to prohibit pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania was introduced as early as the 1880s, according to Philly.com. A bill to outlaw the practice passed the Senate last session, but failed to come out of House Speaker Mike Turzai’s (R-Allegheny) Rules Committee for a floor vote. Sen. Patrick Browne (R-Lehigh) introduced such a bill again this session, which currently awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Council also gave preliminary approval to a council bill that permits all public safety officials to enter a vehicle to protect the health and safety of an animal, especially in extreme hot or cold temperatures.

Harris said city code allows police officers to break into vehicles to rescue animals, but that all other public safety officials, including animal control officers, do not have such authority.

Mary Withrow, director of government relations with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, said the bill was modeled on legislation in North Carolina.

“It just gives authority; it’s not against the law to have the animal in the car,” Withrow said. “In most states that’s a summary offense, but we didn’t want to be stuck with a summary offense held to that, because it could be a misdemeanor 1 if the animal is deceased.”

The Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act, introduced by state Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) would make leaving animals in hot cars a summary offense statewide.

Council will take final votes on both bills next week.