When the owner of eighteen racing pigeons’ health started to decline, they asked for help from the UK animal charity the RSPCA. Two officers from the charity, Kirsten Ormerod and Brian Milligan, stepped in to assist with food and water but it was later decided it would be best to rehome the animals for the sake of the birds’ welfare.
“The birds were very hungry and thirsty when we were called in to help them and the conditions they were being kept in weren’t ideal,” said Ormerod in a press release emailed to IFLScience. “Unfortunately, the birds’ owners had been unable to provide the care they needed due to failing health and, although they loved their pets, they agreed it would be best to sign them over to us so we could find them new homes.”
Being specially bred racing birds who were accustomed to human attention, the pigeons weren’t suitable for being released into the wild. After a short pit stop at the Mallydams Wood wildlife rehabilitation center, the birds were taken in by HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire, UK, a women’s closed category prison and young offenders institution.
Here, they joined around 40 other captive pigeons which had been adopted by the institution and enrolled into an educational program that sees inmates contributing to the care and upkeep of the animals and their pigeon loft located inside the prison. The program is a rehabilitative tool that aims to build a better future for the prisoners, providing enrichment and a sense of responsibility that can improve their experience upon release.
“Educational programmes like this help prepare offenders for jobs on release, making them less likely to reoffend and keeping the public safe,” said a spokesperson from HM Foston Hall in the release.
While an unusual journey for a group of racing pigeons, animals as an educational tool on the inside is certainly not unheard of. In 2017, a snake that had become addicted to methamphetamine, having been kept inside a lab that was raided by police (speaking of which, did you hear about the ketamine smuggling pigeon?), was retrieved and checked into a prison rehabilitation facility to dry out at the Corrective Services NSW Wildlife Care Centre just outside Sydney, Australia. After seven months recuperating under the watchful eyes of inmates in the medium-security prison, the python was said to have successfully recovered from their foray with narcotics.
The snake was taken in as part of the John Morony Correctional Complex, which offers a selective wildlife care program that aims to also rehabilitate inmates. It is thought that around 250 animals have been cared for at the minimum-security prison, including other reptiles rescued from raids, kangaroos, possums, and birds.