Flying doves add memorable moments to weddings, graduations, special events

  • <b>By John Wolcott SCBJ Editor</b>
  • Tuesday, October 20, 2009 8:42pm

In movies, televised events and magicians’ stage performances flying doves create memorable moments. Now, Snohomish County residents can enjoy those same magical moments for their own special occasions.

Patrick Vanderpool’s Highland Lofts in Arlington releases pure white doves to soar over graduations, weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations and a variety of other events where a special, memorable touch is needed.

“Life is not measured by the number of breathes we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away,” reads the saying on Vanderpool’s business card.

“People see dove releases on television or in movies but they have no idea there are any birds in the area that they can enjoy at their own events,” he said.

There are nine people in the Puget Sound area who do dove releases, most of them part-timers, he said. Vanderpool was one of them until the commercial construction company he worked for declared bankruptcy recently.

That’s when he decided to add more birds and launch a full-time business. While he primarily serves Snohomish County he’s prepared to make dove releases throughout Puget Sound and eventually north to the Canadian border. Highland Lofts is the only dove business in the county but he also works with his counterparts in Seattle and further south.

Symbols of hope and love

“When these birds suddenly appear, fly high over an event, circle and then disappear as they head back to their home in Arlington, it’s always a surprise and memorable,” he said. Releasing white doves symbolizes faith, hope, love and a sense of freedom, according to Vanderpool’s brochures.

Highland Lofts can provide two doves to be released by the wedding couple, 12 doves to be released by the bride and groom and their wedding party or Vanderpool can arrange for dove releases by the couple and their families. Some couples may only want two doves displayed in a decorative cage near the guest book, without releasing them.

For funerals, his “band of angels” event features a release of 10 doves followed by releasing a lone dove that soars into the circling group of doves, symbolizing the spirits of previously deceased family members being joined by a dove representing the spirit of the loved one.

Occasions for dove releases can also include baby showers, school events, block paraties, Valentine’s Day, church services, company picnics, retirements, family reunions or sporting events, he said. On-site coordinators provide assistance at each event and show people how to hold and release the doves.

Highland Lofts’ rates range from $175 to $500, depending on which package he provides. Reputable companies, including his own, are members of the International White Dove Society, National White Dove Release Society or White Dove Release Professionals, he said. He belongs to all three, which have strict codes of ethics and bird care. His white doves are actually snow-white homing pigeons selected from three strains of racing birds.

For Vanderpool, who moved to Snohomish County nearly a decade ago from upstate New York, his dove release business is the culmination of years of raising and racing homing pigeons.

“When I was a kid, about nine, I remember walknig home from school and seeing pigeons on someone’s shed. I thought at first they were chickens. Afterward, I became friends with the family and learned more about these birds that have had homing instincts bred into them over hundreds of years,” he said.

Racing pigeons with 4-H groups

He welcomes visitors and clients to see his birds and talk about what they can do but he also spends much of his time working with 4-H and other youth groups about the wonder of racing pigeons. Homing pigeons can fly up to 500 miles in a day, finding their way back home by using the Earth’s geomagnetic fields.

Along with people such as pigeon racer Herb Cartmell of Early Dawns Lofts in Woodinville, Vanderpool also teaches young people how to raise, care for and race homing pigeons. It’s an amazingly popular sport with many area clubs, Cartmell said, including the Snohomish County Pigeon Fanciers Association in Marysville; Stilly Racing Pigeon Club, Everettt Racing Pigeon Club; Sno-King Racing Pigeon Club and the Greater Seattle Racing Pigeon Club.

Cartmell works extensively with 4-H groups, teaching members how to build lofts for 6 to 10 birds and how to train the birds for homing back to their loft. His SkyPilot program for youth 8 to 18 is affiliated with 4-H of Snohomish County and the American Racing Pigeon Union.

Young people are provided with birds that are returned after the October to September program, which ends with an awards ceremony. Arrangements can be made for students who want to keep their birds.

Meetings of the SkyPilot Program members are held at Alfy’s, 1020 Ave. D, Snohomish, at 6 p.m. the first Monday of each month.

For more information, contact Vanderpool at 425-220-1051, send email to or visit

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