Several years ago, as thousands watched in Saint Peter’s Square, a seagull and a large black crow attacked two white doves that had just been released by children standing alongside Pope Francis. The violent outcome of this dove release, intended as a peace symbol, saddened those who witnessed it.

White doves are often released at weddings, funerals and other events. Because these birds are usually inbred, can’t fly well and otherwise lack survival skills, ceremonial dove releases, according to a Cornell University ornithologist, “are putting those birds out there to die.” They are apt to starve, freeze or be eaten by predators. Ornithologists, bird lovers, and animal protection organizations denounce this practice.

As Natalie Owings, director of Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary near Santa Fe, New Mexico, who rescued Dew Drop, a white wedding dove that was severely wounded by a dog, said, ”This practice of abusing an innocent bird to the extent that she dies at the feet of human arrogance casts a very dark cloud over the entire event.”

Even if trained homing pigeons are used, many are likely to get lost and to suffer the same fates as released white doves.

Please don’t replace birds with butterflies for ceremonial releases. Butterflies are frequently ordered online, and are shipped in boxes hundreds or thousands of miles, packed in small, flat envelopes.

One wedding guest observed, “the bride chose to release small butterflies. It was the most appalling sight we have ever witnessed. Half of them had broken wings or were near dead. People were stomping on them to put them out of their misery. How anyone could think this is pretty or romantic is beyond me.”

The surviving butterflies usually can’t cope with strange, hostile environments. They may also spread diseases and parasites to local populations. Organizations ranging from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the North American Butterfly Association and the American Museum of Natural History are opposed to butterfly releases.

Releasing doves or butterflies into hostile environments after having kept them confined, often under deplorable conditions, all their lives is comparable to abandoning a domesticated dog in a forest far from her home.

Since ceremonial dove and butterfly releases are supposedly intended to reflect peace, hope and serenity, and since such releases actually cause unnecessary suffering, we should make progress towards creating a better world for all sentient beings by eliminating ceremonial dove and butterfly releases.

Joel Freedman of Canandaigua is a frequent Messenger Post contributor.