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Racing pigeon breeders stunned by bird thefts

More than 200 valuable birds taken from 2 sites

Friday, May 30, 2003

By Ann Belser, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It was 5 a.m. yesterday when Stanley Piesetzkie, of Jeannette, turned on the lights for the pigeon loft and saw the doors were open and most of his birds were gone.

Stanley Piesetzkie feeds a homing pigeon that's too young to feed itself. About 150 of his pigeons were stolen from his home in Jeannette yesterday morning and the young ones that were left behind are in danger because they depend upon the older ones for feeding. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Inside he found just some chicks. The youngest, which did not have any feathers yet, had died from the cold of the night air because they were unprotected. Eight others had some feathers, and Piesetzkie thinks he will be able to feed them by hand.

The other 150 birds were gone. Records he had kept of their breeding also were taken.

He's seen birds like his racers sell for $500 up to $2,500 "if guys will part with them."

"These aren't the pigeons you see on the Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh," said Thomas Berich, a breeder in Elizabeth Township.

Piesetzkie's loss was the second bird theft in two nights.

On Wednesday, Vincent Rapneth, of Penn Hills, who raises white rock doves found that 57 of his birds had been stolen and he had just six birds left.

"I have no idea what they do with them. If they release them, they're going to come back here," said Vincent Rapneth, who releases the birds at weddings as a symbol of love and togetherness.

Piesetzkie said he had about 65 of the white rock doves stolen -- 28 breeding pairs and the rest racing pigeons. His wife and daughter can make $300 to $350 releasing the doves for weddings.

While the doves are valuable, the racing pigeons, he said, were priceless.

Piesetzkie, 56, has spent most of his life around birds. His father used to race pigeons and he picked up the hobby as a child. In pigeon racing, the birds are taken up to 300 miles away and released. The first birds back to their lofts win the race.

Some of his birds represent more than 30 years of selective breeding from birds brought over from Belgium. He said it would be impossible to replace what he had, but that if he tried, it would cost him "thousands and thousands of dollars."

The loft for his pigeons is above his garage. An access door from the garage was locked, but there is also a ramp with a door that was unlocked. To get to the ramp, he said, the thieves had to climb up a 4-foot wall from an alley and then walk up the ramp.

"Whoever took them, I guess they knew what they were doing," he said. He keeps his breeding records on charts on the wall. They were all taken with the birds. The racers are all outfitted with numbered bands to identify them.

"They knew which ones are the pairs," he said.

One of his theories for why the birds were stolen is that someone is planning to send them to Taiwan, China or Japan, where bird racing is very popular. He also said they could be sent to a sportsmen's club to be shot.

Stanley Piesetzkie cradles a week-old homing pigeon in his hands. "If this one makes it, it will be a miracle," he said. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Piesetzkie plans to hand-feed the surviving chicks.

"They won't get the nourishment they would get from their parents, but they're all I have left," he said.

Rapneth said it's easy to steal the birds at night because they don't move in the dark. He said he had heard of birds being stolen, but never thought it was a real danger until this week.

Penn Hills Police Lt. Dennis Poland said his department is investigating the theft. Jeannette police are investigating Piesetzkie's losses.

Berich, who breeds show pigeons that appear in shows run like dog or cat shows, said it was devastating to open up a loft and find all the birds had been stolen. His loft has been burglarized three times, the last in January 2002, when more than 200 birds were taken, he said.

Berich said white rock doves typically sell for more than $200 each. The show pigeons are much more expensive.

Now Berich's pigeon loft, which is located behind his house, is outfitted with an alarm system and protected by a German shepherd.

Ann Belser can be reached at abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.

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