LITTLE ROCK Daniel Hash of Cabot has taken what was once a hobby and turned it into a thriving business that brings joy to people across Arkansas.
Hash is the owner of United Doves, a homebased business that provides white birds to be released for special occasions. The birds are white racing homing pigeons, and they have a special instinct that allows them to remember where they were raised. Hash said that the doves he raises are able to be released anywhere in Arkansas and then return home.
"They circle a couple of times and then come back to Cabot," Hash said.
Hash said that although United Doves can release the doves at birthday parties, graduation parties and charity or humanitarian events such as Race for the Cure and Relay for Life, the two main events they work are weddingsand funerals.
"It's a new idea and so beautiful to watch," Hash said. "Plus, the symbolism goes hand in hand with the actual ceremony."
During a wedding, two doves are released, symbolizing a new beginning for the bride and groom. At a funeral, four doves are released - three for the Father, Son and Holy Ghostand one for the deceased.
"It brings peace to people in a time of sadness," Hatch said of working the funerals. "It makes me feel like there is a purpose behind it."
Hash has been working with birds since he was 11. As a child growing up in Utah, he used to watch his neighbors' birds and was fascinated.
"I had a big desire to have some of them," Hash said. "It's something I've always held close to me."
Hash grew up and served in the Air Force before relocating to Little Rock in 2001. He started United Doves in 2004.
"No one else in the area was doing it," Hash said. "What better service to provide than something that was a hobby?"
White racing homing pigeons were introduced in the United States in the 1800s. Flying at between 55 and 60 miles per hour, these doves have been known to fly farther than 700 miles in one day. Hash said they were used in both World War I and World War II to relay messages, and thousands of lives were saved because of their work. Even today, armies in the countries of France, Switzerland, Israel, Iraq and China use the doves. The birds also have the ability to hear sounds up to 11 octaves below Middle C, allowing them to detect earthquakes and electric storms.
In addition to being used in armies around the world, white racing homing pigeons have recently become popular in sports. Hash said that pigeon racing has become as popular in Europe as horse racing is to Americans and is slowly making its way to North America. In some cases, the prize money is worth $1 million, and the highest-paid doves cost $225,000.
Hash raises the doves from the time they hatch. The birds start flying 25 to 30 days after birth and begin training when they are 6 weeks old.
"We raise about 20 every month and a half and have about 185 on location," Hash said.
For the training, Hash uses visual and auditory signals. He also takes the birds out in increments of five, 10 or 15 miles or more in every direction.
"They can go up to 150 miles and then come back," Hash said.
Some even like to show off. These doves, labeled "rollers," do somersaults in the air in addition to circling and flying away. Hash said it costs about $700 per year to raise and train the doves, plus an additional $200 per year for vaccinations.
"[But] every single year we've been doubling our numbers, so I must be doing something right," Hash said.
Rental packages start at $75 and are dependent upon both the number of doves used in the ceremony and the distance Hash has to travel. It costs an extra $50 if he has to travel 60 miles or more outside of Cabot. A 30-day notice is preferred for weddings, but United Doves is set up to do funerals at a moment's notice.
Hash said that he works closely with funeral directors aroundcentral Arkansas and has allowed them to release the doves themselves if he is unable to be at the ceremony. He also generates a lot of business by working with local floral shops.
"If I can't do it, I can find someone who can," Hash said.
In addition to his work with the doves, Hash also lends a hand to those interested in starting similar businesses. His Web site, www.whitepigeonsales.com, gives details of how to break in to the business and also offers customers the opportunity to buy the necessary supplies such as displays and baskets.
"They can [start a business] under United Doves' name or just buy equipment," Hash said.
United Doves is a family-run business, and Hash's wife, Cindy, an attorney in Cabot, helps out when she can. Hash said that he also hopes to pass the tradition on to his daughter, Addison, who will have her first birthday in March. Hash plans to release one dove in her honor.
"I'm doing what I enjoy," Hash said. "It can't get much better than that."