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The Truth About Butterfly and Dove Releases

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The Truth About Butterfly and Dove Releases by Michelle RiveraSeveral years ago, while working as the director of a local humane society’s summer camp, I had the “bright” idea to build a butterfly garden.  I thought that the kids would love planting the butterfly-friendly plants that were donated by a local garden shop and caring for the pupae and butterflies. I even went as far as building a screen pavilion in order to protect the butterflies from predators and give the animals a place to test their wings before they flew away.

While surfing the Internet, I found a company that sends butterfly “kits” through the mail. I ordered a few hundred butterflies in various stages of life—larvae, cocoons, and a few adult butterflies. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had this idea that the butterflies would arrive in an enormous box that had little holes in it, and the butterflies would be fluttering about inside until the box was opened and they could fly out. The company shipped the package overnight from a city that was only a three—hour car ride from my house, so I didn’t think much about the whole transaction.

Imagine my shock and horror when the butterflies that I ordered arrived in tiny, flattened envelopes, with their glorious wings flattened, and in a state of forced hibernation! While I stood with a gorgeous butterfly resting on my finger, I berated myself a hundred times over. Fighting for his life, I found a way to unfurl his tiny proboscis and watched as he sipped sugar water from a bottle cap, praying that this little fellow would make it. I can’t tell you how dreadful I felt at my own complicity in commodifying the life of such a beautiful being. When I discovered that some butterflies had arrived dead, I knew that I was responsible for their demise. Surely there must be a better way to teach children about the life cycle of an insect than to risk the life of a butterfly. Since then, I have made a pact that I will never purchase butterflies again and that I will try my best to educate everyone I can about the cruelty that’s involved in this industry.

It’s heart wrenching to think that this scenario is played out dozens of times a day all over the world to celebrate everything from a butterfly garden to a wedding—and everything in between.

White doves, for example, are specifically bred for release and used by thoughtless event planners. Because doves are flock animals, they have very little chance of surviving on their own when they are released at events. Sending white doves into the air after having kept them confined for their entire lives is tantamount to abandoning a household companion animal in the woods 10 miles from home and should be as illegal. The initial release confuses doves, especially if it’s done at night (when many celebrations take place). Doves are diurnal, so being exposed at night already puts them at a disadvantage. In the confusion of the moment, the birds dissipate and flounder into the night. Come morning, these doves are on their own. Unless they are lucky enough to find a flock of pigeons or other doves to join up with, they won’t survive. However, even if they do find other birds to hang out with, the disoriented doves will remain an easy target for hawks and other predators.

Butterflies, too, have a tough time surviving in a habitat that is not designed for them. They live in a variety of climates around the world, and when they are transported away from their natural habitats, they often cannot find food sources. Because of the seasonal nature of many butterfly species, some butterflies who are released face climates that they simply cannot survive in.

I would love to see people go back to the basics of celebration: music, carousing, and dancing in the streets. Is that so wrong?

To this day, I am sorry about my poor judgment at that summer camp. I hope that by sharing my story, I can educate even one person and convince them to not purchase butterflies and to speak out against butterfly and dove releases whenever they get the chance.

Like many PETA activists, I, too, am an animal rescuer. I have bottle-fed kittens and given tender, post-operative nursing care to wounded animals. But I hope that I never again have to hold a dying butterfly on my finger because I was careless with a credit card and a computer.

Do you have any creative ideas for celebrations that don’t involve animals?

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    Kris Lecakes Haley says...

    March 2nd, 2010, 12:30 am

    Great article! People release doves and butterflies at weddings and funerals because they love them — unaware of the truth behind this very insidious form of exploitation. Thanks for shining the light on this truth — you’ve saved many dove and butterfly lives in the process!

    Daisy says...

    March 8th, 2010, 4:28 pm

    It’s incredible how cruel we human beings have turned against this wonderful planet, we use life to our advantage, and more commonly for our entertaiment. We do not think one microsecond before we want something, we just get it…Even when many of us don’t mean to harm, we have grew in a culture of consumism and the life of animal has become just another item to be traded. Some times it’s so hard to define that fine line of what’s normal and what’s cruel…We just don’t care…How sad is that!

    Jasmine says...

    March 16th, 2010, 6:53 pm

    With all due respect I have to write that I know a few bird release “business” owners. These owners are very passionate about their birds. They don’t fly the birds in the dark or in bad weather. They truly believe that the birds have a special relationship with the earth’s soul. They are honored to take care of these birds and share them with people who appreciate them just as much. At weddings the birds represent unity (doves & pigeons mate for life), many think that at funerals the birds carry the loved one’s soul on… Every one of us has a different belief…there’s a beautiful group of people that believe in the power of these magnificent birds. Every person and animal serve a purpose in this world…we all face danger every day…these birds are free & safer than most birds…these birds are precious and appreciated every single day…these birds share a very special gift with everyone they meet. I’m a huge PETA supporter…but I think there are times when we should all step back and stop being so judgmental. Thank you.

    Lois Baum says...

    March 22nd, 2010, 2:25 pm

    Thank you so much, Michelle, for sharing this info. Very helpful to know. And Jasmine, I’m sure there are some folks who are humane and aware, but as a general rule, nonhumans do not exist for our use or amusement, and these practices (profitable or otherwise) should be replaced with safe, animal-free alternatives.

    I am equally concerned about the release of balloons – for animals and for the environment, and wish to share a few links I found:

    Balloons and their Danger to Wildlife
    http://www.newcanaannature.org/resources/articles/wildlife/balloons.php

    Stop Balloon Pollution and Danger
    http://secretscotland.wordpress.com/2008/06/11/time-to-stop-balloon-pollution-and-danger/

    Biodegradable Balloons
    http://www.ecologicalpromos.com/2008/01/eco-friendly-product-of-week.html

    Thank you so much, Michelle ~ you’ve helped so much!

    John says...

    April 8th, 2010, 11:43 am

    Michelle,
    I would be happy to talk with you and give you the real facts about “white dove” releases for weddings, funerals, etc. These are not doves, but in fact, white homing pigeons. They are cared for with incredible love. They are NEVER released at night, and they are trained through a carefully thought out and practiced training program to insure their safe return to their home loft, where they will receive daily feed, clean water, medications, supplements and the companionship of their fellow loft dwellers. These magical birds bring joy at weddings as they celebrate the union of two people together (usually two birds are released at weddings) and at funerals, they help bring closure to the families involved as they represent the spirit of the beloved person ascending into heaven. Children are especially fond of the white bird releases at funerals, and have told others that they are like “little angels escorting my papa’s soul to heaven”. I would be truly happy to provide you with the names and phone numbers of people who bring true joy to their customers through their white pigeon release business, so that you can report on the truth. Feel free to contact me via email so we can connect. All the best, John.

    Margaret Boyce says...

    July 16th, 2010, 12:21 pm

    It’s time we ended this addiction that humans have to dominating animals. We were not put on this earth to benefit from the exploitation of other creatures.

    No matter how well dove breeders and owners feel they are “taking care” of these birds, the simple fact is that they are being kept in captivity, ultimately against their will.

    We have no right.

    Monica says...

    September 29th, 2010, 12:33 pm

    Dear Michelle:
    I’m getting married soon and saw some information about butterflies release, but as an animal rights activist I was looking for the “dark side” of this; thanks to you I have the right information.

    Megan says...

    January 17th, 2011, 12:28 am

    Thanks so much for the info! I wanted to definitely get all of my information right before I decided on anything for my wedding! This definitely made up my mind!

    Howard Bernstein says...

    September 3rd, 2011, 12:53 pm

    I recently attended a memorial ceremony for a friend, where many dozens of butterflies were released as a culmination activity. The insects were housed in two, small netted containers. Upon release, few of them could fly; many landed on people’s hair and clothing- all seemed exhausted. A few minutes later, people were scrambling to pick up butterflies that had simply wilted to the ground. Embarrassment reigned.
    I am a marsh naturalist. Most of the people at this event also work in narure conservation or education.
    The organizers seemed to have no idea that they were memorializing a dear friend by sentencing dozens if butterflies to death.

    Colleen says...

    September 15th, 2011, 3:05 pm

    To John commenting above, perhaps a small percentage of these “white doves” are homing pigeons but many are not. I ran a 5K race for charity where they released 8 white doves. They were doves. I know the difference between a pigeon and a dove. The doves flew around confused and scared. I kept my eye on them during the race and the after party. Over two hours later I could still see them in the sky, flocked together and flying around in total confusion, not knowing where to go, where to land, what was safe. The fact that humans could view this as a “joyful” event is astounding to me. It made me feel horrible not joyful.

    Colleen says...

    September 15th, 2011, 3:09 pm

    I also attended a wedding where the guests were each given a little white box with a butterfly in it for a butterfly release. What a flop. My box contained a dying butterfly, as did most others.

    Shay says...

    September 26th, 2011, 1:16 pm

    I too have met someone in the white homing pigeon business, who claims the birds they release at weddings are trained and come home. However, even if this is considered less terrible than releasing white doves who are untrained and lost upon release, I was horrified to learn how they get only white homing pigeons: pure white pigeons are somehow genetically inferior in flight to gray pigeons so the two types are crossbred to get white homing pigeons that will be trainable. This of course results in quite a few birds that are partially or wholly gray, and these birds get their necks snapped as fledgelings as they are useless to the business. Even if the pure white birds were to be treated like kings, I find this culling of “less than perfect” birds to be equally horrible to support.

    Emma Grant says...

    October 3rd, 2011, 11:08 am

    I am so so gratelful for this article Michelle.
    A dear friend of mine is getting married next year and she’s having a theme of purple butterflies. Being a bridesmaid i want to give her something special , so my immediate reaction was to investigate the releasing of butterflies on her big day. After speaking to the butterfly conservation and reading this article i have decided NOT to do it. In sharing your story you have educated me and perhaps in doing so saved some beautiful butterflies ;)
    Thanks again , Emma x

    Natalya says...

    February 16th, 2013, 5:45 am

    I would just like to say Thankyou so much for educating
    me on this topic as I was going to have butterflies release
    at my wedding and I actually got very sad reading your
    Wonderful article making me realise it very cruel and this
    Should be stopped!!
    I absolutely love butterflies and the way the site
    Sells u a pack of butterflies to be released looks
    Like they would be alright its so so wrong! And more
    People should read this article to help them know
    That it is actually a very bad and cruel thing to do!

    Melanie says...

    April 29th, 2013, 1:02 am

    I came across this article by searching white butterflies to release at my wedding! I thought it would be beautiful and I love butterflies so much. Now I an not going to do that of choose, I never realized that was what is going on. Very sad! :( Your article defiantly saved done butterflies today! :)

    shirley says...

    July 24th, 2013, 12:13 pm

    I specifically went on this site today to do some research after viewing something this am that alarmed me. A gentleman was parked at a local Tim Hortons with 6 doves inside a cage on the hood of his vehicle with a business card (only 1 to look at – none to take with you). At first I was confused as why they were there and when I looked into the back of his vehicle there were other animals in cages sitting on the back seat (still not quite sure what they were, but didn’t look like doves). I am appauled at the fact that this was an obvious attempt at promoting their business. They are so beautiful I just can’t comprehend the insensitivity and inhumane ways that some of us supposedly “human beings” practice our lives. I love all beings and most days unfortunately I look around me in disgust as to what we have become in order to make a profit. Where does it end?

    Jen says...

    October 19th, 2013, 10:26 am

    I do agree about the butterflies, that it seems that it might cause stress and they might die, but I’ve also wondered if it’s good for the population as a whole–these people are taking the time to raise them whereas I am not. So when 100 are released, even if only half survive in the long term, it’s still 50 more butterflies in this world than I’ve ever contributed in the past 30 years (good for pollination, to feed other animals, etc). I do get that it seems cruel to be the cause of however many die though, but I do also kill spiders in my house and unavoidably probably kill hundreds of ants a day walking on the sidewalk.

    Pam says...

    March 26th, 2014, 3:39 pm

    I frequently see several white doves in parking lots such as Walmart. I assume that they were used at a wedding or a funeral or something. I think that they probably just die because each day I go back to check on them, there are less of them. I honestly don’t know how some people can lay their head down at night and go to sleep!!

    Joan says...

    April 26th, 2014, 10:04 am

    I totally agree that all cruel practices should be banned and folk should be educated with regard to how ordinary people are co-erced into condoning and taking part in what should be a moving and special time.

    I hold regular memorial services and the idea of butterflies certainly enable people to connect and begin moving on. During these services I give everyone a butterfly, not a real one, but one that I have made from parchment paper and colour with glitter gel pens.

    I have also adapted some of the moving poems that fit to receive the butterfly in all its beauty and let go of the pain and the hurt that comes with loss.

    So many people have found this very spiritual and as they take their butterflies away with them they are able to hold on to some of the healing that took place within that service.

    I hope this is helpful and might encourage more peole to be creative in helping people to move on in their grief.

    susan summers says...

    May 7th, 2014, 11:12 am

    We are already devistating the monarch butterflys. LEAVE GODS CREATURES ALONE!!

    Gillian Van Wyk says...

    May 8th, 2014, 8:30 am

    when will we ever learn to stop using nature for our own fickle entertainment

    KERRY TELFORD says...

    May 10th, 2014, 1:44 am

    Butterflies are precious! I urge you to stop all cruel practices.

    Diana Pope says...

    May 12th, 2014, 3:01 am

    Thank you, so much, for this wonderful insight into the misuse and abuse of butterflys and doves. Having worked as a wildlife rescuer and rehabilitator for many years, I can vouch for the horrific life these beautiful birds are condemned to. The majority of these birds are attacked by predators. Have you ever witnessed a hawk sinking its talons into a bewildered bird and flying off with it while it screams for its life? It’s heart wrenching and so unfair to these unsuspecting doves. Birds learn from their parents. If they aren’t taught how to live in the wild, if they aren’t taught what to fear, they won’t know. Birds bred and raised in captivity are not equipped to live in the wild. It’s no different than releasing your puppy in the wild and expecting that he will live like a wolf. Not going to happen. Those who argue the breeders are compassionate and caring people have a very strange definition of compassion! As for the butterflies, I don’t believe there’s anything positive about a 50% survival rate, which is way high, by the way. I guess it depends on your definition of compassion. I believe each and every life is sacred and worth saving. If we think of the species only, we cheapen life, even that of human brings. Before I close, I wanted to add that worms sold on-line, suffer the same fate as butterflies and doves, often arriving dead. We’ve got to stop using these beings for our benefit. Their lives are theirs, for their own purpose, not for ours.

    Vanessa @ Green Global Travel says...

    May 26th, 2014, 1:40 pm

    Based on the comments, it seems like there could be some more humane companies with butterflies and doves out there, but this is not what they naturally do either way. Good to learn about them and spread the word.

    IamZ says...

    May 28th, 2014, 7:25 am

    Great article. I was actually browsing about the tradition of releasing doves during weddings since I don’t want to do it. I am concerned with how it will be brought to the Church or reception and so I stumbled on your post. Thank you for sharing your story. I am now confident that I wouldn’t do it during my wedding ceremony. Hope other brides/couples support this.

    Pamela Stewart says...

    June 5th, 2014, 8:02 pm

    Thanks for the great article Michelle. I was at a wedding a few years ago where they released doves and the birds appeared stressed. I came to this article because I was doing research after I saw a Craigslist Toronto ad for a dove release job and wondered what it was. Animal rights groups in Italy are trying to get the Vatican to stop releasing doves after some were attacked by seagulls back in January. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/28/national-animal-protection-pope-doves_n_4680848.html

    Laura Cartwright says...

    July 27th, 2014, 1:33 pm

    I lived in Northern Arizona for many years. I kept a group of doves in my back yard. sometimes a white or a regular ring neck would come join and sometimes they stayed. They all had chicks all mixed colors. It was very interesting for my kids. If one was mean I made it go. Often it tried to come back. safety food and water are important in the desert.I wondered where the white ones came from I thought they were escaped pets. I was always so thrilled to have one come in. This may be where they were lost from. Very interesting
    subject.

    mary Gusha says...

    August 24th, 2014, 2:11 pm

    I’m very thankful and God bless you for writing that article. I’ve been looking for invitations with a live butterfly release. after reading your article I have since changed my mind and I will have no part of it. so on behalf of all the butterflies and the birds, thank you and God bless.

    Heidi Weber says...

    September 1st, 2014, 10:30 am

    I understand that the people who raise thse white homing pigeons believe that the birds return. Most probably do. I have here with me today a beautiful, gentle white pigeon or dove who has been hopping around the neighborhood too weak to fly. I suppose this is one that didn’t make it back, I suppose if one does not return it is a small loss to the person who was paid to release them. To this beautiful bird who looks at me and seems so sad and alone, who was so hungry and tired and helpless, it is a big deal. It is so sad to see. I always assumed they all made it back and never really gave it much thought before. It is very sad that their lives are risked so that someone can make money. This bird was so weak, I just picked him up, any preditor could have done the same thing.

    Jamia Sims says...

    October 24th, 2014, 10:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing the information! I certainly don’t want to be a part of any of God’s creatures being harmed or misused!

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