Ronald A. Wacker Jr., whose racing pigeons have prompted a city controversy, says his pigeons are no different from his neighbors' cats and dogs.
"They're family pets," he says.
And Wacker, who lives in Hamilton, is fighting to keep his pets. Tomorrow, at a meeting of the city zoning board, he plans to argue to keep the two backyard coops that house his 30 pigeons.
But some of Wacker's neighbors are upset that the pigeons have splattered their neighborhood with droppings.
And Melvin Munk, Wacker's next-door neighbor in the 4800 block of Edgar Terrace, says he plans to present to the zoning board a petition signed by members of 20 households in the neighborhood objecting to the pigeon coops. Complaints from Munk, a retired TV technician, prompted the hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow.
Wacker, 28, a night foreman at a company that makes plastic caps, concedes that maybe his pigeons "messed" on the neighbors' roofs and driveways before he had them fully trained. But now his pigeons are experienced flyers and know when to "mess" and when not to, Wacker says.
Munk's complaints to one of his City Council representatives from the 3rd District, Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd, led Landers to introduce three bills dealing with pigeons at a recent City Council meeting. The bills would require people who want to keep pigeons to get permission from the zoning board and to obtain permits from the building and health departments.
The city now has no rules regulating caged pigeons, says Don Torres, assistant commissioner of environmental health.
Torres says he, Landers and other city officials plan to meet soon with pigeon fanciers and community representatives to discuss the bills. Torres says the city wants to be careful not to over-regulate pigeon owners.
The hearing tomorrow does not involve the bills, however. It pertains only to Wacker's pigeon coops and the question of whether the coops meet current building codes.
Wacker bought the house next to Munk in April. He says Munk never complained to him about his pigeons.
"If he had just talked to me I would have tried to work something out," Wacker says. "But now I'm going to stand my ground."
Wacker says he started raising pigeons when he was 13, but this is the first year he has raced them. A member of the Hamilton Homing Pigeon Club, Wacker enters his pigeons in the club's weekly races.
The pedigreed pigeons, bred to fly long distances, fly in races ranging from 50 to 400 miles. The pigeons are released in places such as Ashland, Va., or Sumter, S.C., and fly home to their coops. The first pigeon back wins.
In a recent 200-mile race, starting at Roanoke Rapids, N.C., one of Wacker's pigeons flew the 200 miles in 4 hours 12 minutes. That was good enough for 17th place out of 343 pigeons.
Wacker exercises his pigeons by letting them out of the coops once or twice a day. They fly around the neighborhood until he rattles their food can, calling them home.
Well-trained pigeons return to the coop immediately. On race day, when they're nearing home, a minute's roosting on a neighbor's roof can knock them down many places in the final standings.
Even if his pigeons do "mess" once in a while on neighbors' rooftops, Wacker says, his neighbors' cats and dogs are once in a while "messing" in his flower garden and front yard. But Wacker says he doesn't complain because he believes you have to give a little when you live in the city.