2005 AFA Convention Keynote Address


I am going to tell you a story.

My father grew up just outside of Boston, Massachusetts during the Depression. After the Depression, he was fortunate that his father started a business that provided him with an opportunity that few children his age had -- the ability to have pets. But my dad's pets were not just the traditional dogs or cats; they were a flock of homing pigeons that he kept in an enclosure in his back yard. Dad grew up with a great respect for animals which he passed on to me. They were part of the family.

In the 1950's when my folks were finally able to afford a house, they decided that it was time that I learned the responsibility for caring for animals. But again, it wasn't a traditional dog or cat. They bought me singing yellow canaries from the local 5 and 10 cent store. They didn't just buy one canary; they bought a pair of canaries. I learned about feeding, watering, whistling and, when my mom had her way, cleaning their cage. One day we put a little wire mesh nest and nesting material in the cage. Low and behold a nest was built and a few weeks later, eggs appeared in the nest! This was a very exciting time for me as an 8 year old because I now had a family of my own. Much to my amazement, one of the eggs actually hatched. I watched as the female dutifully raised the baby. Little did my parents or I know what an impression their gift would make upon me.

Following in my father's footsteps, as a young teenager, I had marveled at the homing pigeons kept not too far from my house. I talked a lot with my father about homing pigeons, and my father shared many stories about how he and his father would take pigeons to New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, release them

and amazingly, have them come home. One day my dad and I visited the local neighbor's backyard coop. We bought six pigeons, three pair. Keeping with the tradition of treating animals

like family members, I named each of the birds. There was Whitey, Red, Specks and Checks. The canaries had names, too. Very cleverly, I had named them Tweety and Tweety Pie. The pigeons were taken home. A tool shed in the backyard had been converted to a coop with an outdoor aviary, a trap, a breeding area and a holding area. Breeding cubicles were built along the wall in the breeding room. The breeders were separated by wire from the holding area, the outdoor aviary and the trap were kept secure so that there was no chance of escape because the first lesson I learned was that homing pigeons went back to where they were hatched. The pairs laid in the spring and raised babies; the babies were hacked out, released and made a bee line to a nearby tree branch which went out over the neighbor's driveway. I will never forget the white line across that black stretch of driveway. The neighbors learned very quickly where not to park their cars. Low and behold, when the birds became hungry, they flew from that branch to the top of the outdoor aviary and went in through the trap. These were very exciting times and of course the birds all had names. I eventually ended up with over 60 homing pigeons. My dad and I flew them from all over New England, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They always came back. Except I remember that one bird who disappeared for two weeks. I thought for sure that the bird was lost forever but then we realized it was breeding season. Eventually the bird showed up. I swear he had a smile on his face.

When I went away to college, dad sold the birds to other breeders. After college, came law school, marriage to Janet, my own house and then that fateful day in 1975 when we walked into a local pet store and saw the sweetest, most lovable Yellow Cheeked Amazon Parrot, blind in one eye. The only question was, what would we name it. The birds all had names. Cheeks came home with us and we never looked back. A room was dedicated to him and then to the Sulfur Crested Cockatoo which we bought from Berne Levine. The Double Yellow Headed Amazon which we adopted from someone who could no longer keep her pet, and then two pair from a woman who got them in a divorce - a pair of Galarita Galeritas and a pair of African Greys. The basement became an aviary. By 1977, our family had grown. Our veterinarian, Marjorie McMillan, who we first met in 1975, for the first of many well bird checks warned us we better start buying birds in pairs because some day bird importation would end and we would not be able to fulfill our passion for birds by obtaining wildcaught stock.