Plymouth couple lose battle to keep 35 rare, expensive pigeons

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2013 - 5:36 AM

The City Council ruled that the 35 birds violate an ordinance on domestic animals. Their owners had argued that the rare specimens are simply harmless pets.

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Valeriy Partyka holds one of his prized pigeons in the small coop behind his home in Plymouth.

Photo: Brian Peterson • bpeterson@startribune.com,

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In the latest metro area flap over whether pigeons are pests or pets, a Plymouth couple have been ordered to get rid of 35 rare and expensive pigeons.

Vera and Valeriy Partyka argue that the brown and white birds, which cost as much as $2,000 each and were shipped from places like Germany and Iran, are no different from pets like their hamsters or cat.

But the City Council disagreed Tuesday night, giving the couple six months to remove the birds, which they’ve had for more than a decade.

“They’re just pigeons,” Vera Partyka said, adding about the decision: “It’s just ridiculous.”

As keeping pet pigeons grows in popularity, more cities are being confronted with the feathered flocks. Pigeon possession has been approved by city councils from White Bear Lake to Forest Lake. In St. Paul, 35 racing pigeons valued at more than $1,000 were stolen Tuesday from a home’s back yard.

In Plymouth, the city says the Partykas’ pigeons violate a city ordinance. Keeping the pigeons, which aren’t used for racing or for food, is a hobby that Valeriy Partyka has had since he grew up in Ukraine. The birds live in a coop in their expansive yard with views of Medicine Lake.

Now, the couple say they and their three young children will move from Plymouth, their home for 13 years.

“The pigeons never will be for sale,” Vera Partyka said. “There’s $30,000-$40,000 in pigeons there. It’s an expensive hobby.”

As the trend to house back-yard chickens takes off metrowide, pigeons — sometimes called “rats of the sky” — may share a similar public-relations problem.

Bruce Rhode of the Minnesota State Pigeon Association said it’s a tough sell to cities to allow pigeons.

But he and other pigeon owners argue that they’re no different from other pets.

“People are raised believing pigeons are dirty and disease ridden. … You think of that gray thing that lives in the elevators or under bridges,” said Rhode, who has 100 pigeons at his home in Brownton, Minn., an hour west of Minneapolis. “But once you see the birds they keep, they’re beautiful.”

On Tuesday, though, the Plymouth City Council told the Partykas that the pigeons don’t meet an ordinance’s definition of domestic animals because they aren’t housed in their home, and that the city can’t make an exception for them.

“While it might work for your situation, if we allow it for you, we allow it for everybody in the city,” Mayor Kelli Slavik said. “And where 35 pigeons in your neighborhood may not be an issue, 100 pigeons in somebody else’s neighborhood might be a problem.”

‘A slippery slope’

It’s Plymouth’s first pigeon request. But other nontraditional pet requests — for goats, chickens and even one last year for a potbellied pig — have been denied. The City Council told the Partykas they could keep the pigeons in a rural area, but not in their single-family-home neighborhood.

“If you’ve had pigeons for 10 years, it’s been unknown to me,” Council Member Bob Stein, who lives nearby, told the couple. “But unfortunately, I agree with Mayor Slavik. … If we allow pigeons, then maybe we have to allow chickens. … It’s kind of a slippery slope.”

On Wednesday, the Partykas said that they’re disappointed in the decision and that they will leave the home they built. In their back yard, their white coop houses rare white-and-brown tumbler pigeons, swooshing from one side of the enclosure to the next.

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