Pet Shop Wisdom
If you ever visit the major league pigeon flying area in America, you definitely have to stop at the famous Pet Shop. It is officially known as the Shady Hills Pet Shop of Spring Hill, FL and is owned and operated by Tommy Kurtz of New York fame (plus wife Jean and son Scott). Here you can get directions to any pigeon loft in the area. From the Pet Shop, you will be within 2 miles of more all-American lofts than anywhere else in the United States. You will also be within a mile of the largest pigeon club in the USA.
The Pet Shop is a New York-style pigeon feed store where you can buy almost anything connected with pigeons, and that includes fancy as well as homing pigeons. Tommy refers to his establishment as a full-service pigeon store. To complete that claim, he has now added a one-loft race facility that stretches over 100 feet.
In true New York fashion and hospitality, the Pet Shop houses a large table where pigeon flyers socialize virtually from morning to night. As you can imagine, many topics are discussed at that table every day. Guiding the conversations on most days is none other than the knowledgeable Tony Melucci. And should Tony not be there, then Stanley Pelech or any number of other experienced people will quarterback the group.
The other day when I walked in, the topic being discussed was one of selection. Cleon Cox turned to me and asked if I had ever heard of someone withholding feed from birds for any length of time to judge the stamina or endurance of the birds. My reply was “Yes”. This led to my opportunity to tell a story. Seems like the older we get, the more we like to be heard and tell stories and be important.
I told the group about a phone call I received maybe 20 years ago. It was a fancier or should I say “pigeon keeper” who identified himself by name and that he was calling from Alaska. It was wintertime and he asked me if he was following the correct procedure in grading his Imbrecht pigeons by withholding feed. Since I was the early importer of those birds into this country and knew Germaine well, the Alaskan thought I would know if this was the correct way to grade his Imbrechts.
He continued by telling me that in Alaska, his loft had to be heated in the wintertime. But he had turned off the heat and stopped feeding the birds and was attempting to grade them. What living creature would hold up under these harsh conditions with no feed! Being shocked and sarcastic, of which I am very capable, I gave him a straight-forward answer. I told him he was probably following the correct procedure, but this selection process would require very close observation on his part. Therefore he should stay outside in his sub-zero loft and very closely observe the birds. And I said, “Be sure to stay there the whole time so you don’t miss anything.”
In reality, I know that this practice of withholding feed for several days has been used by other good lofts, but not for the sake of starving the birds. For example, it was a method used by Arie Visser of Holland to trigger the moult. Visser was a very good and observant pigeon fancier and without a question a master breeder. He was not one who would abuse a pigeon.
One more personal observation about withholding feed. Most fanciers we know, no matter what their backgrounds, have never experienced prolonged hunger. I was a refugee as a child and many times was truly hungry. I assure you that if you actually had experienced real hunger for a number of days, you would never willingly impose that on any animal or human being.