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Staff Writer

TOWNSEND — John DeCosta is surprised his plan to keep homing pigeons on his Lunenburg Road property is meeting with resistance.

“It’s an innocent little hobby,” DeCosta said. “I shouldn’t be penalized because I have pets.”

DeCosta said he plans to train the birds to take part in races. The retired Army paratrooper said homing pigeons are still used by the military to convey messages.

DeCosta is applying for a special permit through the town that will allow him to keep up to 20 pigeons on his 5-acre property. He has already paid a $190 non-refundable fee for the permit and is waiting for a March hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Now his next-door neighbor is opposing the pigeons, concerned the animals might bring diseases to the neighborhood.

Laurie Boisvert, of 91 Lunenburg Road, sent a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals opposing DeCosta’s pigeons. Boisvert’s letter lists 18 reasons she does not want to see the birds near her home.

Boisvert could not be reached for comment Monday.

The letter cites potential diseases the birds could carry, and that Boisvert’s 4-year-old son suffers from allergies and uses an inhaler.

“Public health risks associated with racing pigeons including psittacocis, salmonellosis and avian influenza,” Boisvert wrote.

Psittacocis is a respiratory disease spread by birds, salmonellosis is a diarrheal illness spread by handling young birds and avian influenza (also known as bird flu) is a potentially deadly flu spread by waterfowl, according to the Centers for Disease Control Web site.

DeCosta said Boisvert’s concerns are not applicable to the pigeons he will keep, because he will be meticulous in keeping them clean, he said.

DeCosta said the birds are like any other pet a person owns.

“Any species can get diseases if you don’t take care of them,” DeCosta said.

DeCosta said he would take very good care of the 20 or so birds he plans to keep at his house, saying he already takes pains to keep his yard clean while owning two English sheepdogs.

“I pick up after my dogs five times a day,” he said.

The homing pigeons will stay in the coop DeCosta built except for the 15 or 20 minutes a day he will release them for exercise, he said.

The animals are bred to always return to their homes, he said.

“They’re only out for the short time that they fly,” he said.

Boisvert is worried the birds will land on her property, damaging her child’s swing set, her roof and cars.

But DeCosta said that worry is unfounded.

“They don’t land anywhere but this house,” he said.

DeCosta has kept the birds for the better part of 25 years, he said.

He has had them in Groton, Lunenburg and Townsend, where he lived on Main Street.

DeCosta decided to go to the town for a permit when he moved into the Lunenburg Road home.

“I want to make sure I’m safe by the law,” he said.

That’s when he discovered Townsend does not allow for pigeons, Building Inspector Rich Hanks said.

Hanks said the town allows for chickens, ducks, some livestock and other animals, but not for homing pigeons.

“They are not allowed by right,” Hanks said.

DeCosta could be fined if he kept the birds without a permit and there was a complaint to the town, Hanks said.

Hanks said the birds are allowed under a special permit that makes exemptions for recreational activities.

All three selectmen are taking DeCosta’s side, and will approve his request for the permit, Selectman Robert Plamondon said.

“I hope he prevails,” Plamondon added.

Plamondon is sure there are other pigeon enthusiasts in the area and does not see the animals as a problem. He commends DeCosta for seeking town approval first.

“John, to his credit, wants to do things by the book,” Plamondon said.

Damien Fisher may be reached at

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