Pronai’s pigeons pigeon-holed

Madison County prosecutor Stephan Pronai holds one of his homing pigeons in the backyard of his London home. Races have been cancelled statewide amid a ban on all poultry meets, sales and exhibits as a precaution to spreading the avian flu.

The American Racing Pigeon Union is arguing pigeons should not be included in the poultry ban. Previous studies show the birds are immune to the avian flu because of their higher internal body temperature. Until then, the birds remain grounded.

If you know Madison County Prosecutor Stephen Pronai, you probably know about his pigeon hobby. And if you don’t know about his pigeon hobby, you probably don’t really know Pronai.

So imagine the London man’s disappointment when he was recently told that the state’s ban on poultry exhibits, sales and swap meets also applied to his homing pigeons.

“Now I just sit there and look at them,” said Pronai, who currently has about 32 “baby” pigeons in a matching shed in the backyard of his Country Ridge Lane home.

The 300 or so members of Ohio’s 26 recognized racing pigeon clubs may train their birds, but not transport them out of state for competitions, he said.

A member of the Columbus-based Buckeye pigeon racing club, Pronai is a lifelong racer.

During races, club members gather at the Westerville clubhouse. Each bird is identified through bands tied around its ankles. The pigeons are driven to a central location in Kentucky and released. They travel “home” to the various club members’ pigeon houses.

During competition, each members’ birds are co-mingled to ensure fairness.

That’s where the issue comes in.

“They don’t want my birds with your birds,” he said.

But not all birds are of the same feather, Pronai argued. Previous research shows homing pigeons don’t catch or carry avian flu, he said.

Karen Clifton, executive director of the national American Racing Pigeon Union, agreed.

“The metabolism (of pigeons) is so rapid and their body temperature is so high it cannot host the virus,” Clifton said. “They can’t transmit it or shed it.

“There are a million feral pigeons out there and they are not dying,” she noted.

The union provided Ohio’s state veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey, along with his counterparts within the Mississippi Flyway and some surrounding states, with U.S. Department of Agriculture research to back its position.

As of late June, Pennsylvania and Kentucky had lifted state bans on pigeon racing.

Regardless, union members are urged to take bio-hazard precautions against potential transmission. Those precautions include added ventilation and dryer floors in coops or “lofts.” Members are also asked to sterilize boots and shoes prior to entering areas where birds are confined.

But the ODA appeared to take a conservative approach and hold fast to its June 2 proclamation.

“We made the ban apply to anything with wings and feathers,” said ODA spokesperson Erica Hawkins. “And the extent of the ban is important.”

That’s because researchers don’t know exactly how the virus is transmitted, beyond wild waterfowl.

Pronai said he’s not concerned about the health of his pigeons. Regardless of his personal feelings, the ban will also affect an annual fundraiser for the London Rotary Club.

Each September, the club hosts a pigeon race. It typically raises about $1,200 for the club, according to Misty Bradley, club treasurer.

Organizers are holding off on canceling the event in hopes that the ban will be lifted before fall. If not, members may come up with an alternative pigeon-based gathering, even if no actual race takes place.

Perhaps a pigeon petting party?”

It’s something Rotary needs to talk about and see what they want to do,” Pronai said.

“Some people may be leary of being around them.”

In the meantime, Pronai is trying to fill his time with another hobby. “My golf game is about ten-plus right now.”

Andrea McKinney can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619 or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.