Shannon German of Central Coast Doves releases a group of rock doves in Hollister Tuesday. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
HOLLISTER — As hundreds of people girded themselves to spend 24 hours walking an athletic track at Cabrillo College for Santa Cruz Relay For Life in July, a group of cancer survivors released 30 white doves into the air; a fluttering flurry of brilliant white that rose into the air, circled the field and then flew into the distance.
The dove release, which came thanks to Hollister-based Central Coast Dove Release, likely held different meaning for the participants, who were there to raise money for cancer education, detection and research. It was, however, a meaningful way to punctuate the opening ceremony.
For Shannon German, co-owner of Central Coast Dove Release, that variability of meaning is precisely what she loves about her business, particularly the spiritual liberation it offers her customers.
“They hold the birds in their hands and hesitate, hesitate, hesitate, then let them go,” she said. “People feel that they are letting something go. If my birds can bring a little bit of peace — even for a moment — it’s worth it.”
The symbolism of doves resonates throughout history and transcends cultural barriers, variously representing such things as Christianity, paganism and peace. The Greek goddess Aphrodite is frequently depicted with one, and some Native American people believe doves coax rain from the sky.
Dove release ceremonies have become an integral part of ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and birthdays.
German started the business in 2007 with her husband Mike, who has been raising birds since he was 12.
“He fell in love with the hobby,” she said. “He’s never not had birds, and he’s 49.”
After they performed several releases for friends, they decided to pursue it as a business.
What was once a hobby has become no less than an avocation for German’s family, which is made up of three kids, 12, 13 and 17, who frequently help with care and training, German said.
“The birds have always been a part of their lives,” she said.
They now perform releases at events throughout Santa Cruz County.
The company’s services are simple. At some point during an event or ceremony, the doves are released, make a circle of the area to get their bearings and return home using their natural homing instincts.
In most cases, the birds arrive home before German, sometimes up to 60 miles, and are waiting for her in their coop.
German said she saw the true speed and agility of her birds while driving home after a release, when she looked up through her sunroof and saw them following at 65 miles per hour.
Scientists have been studying just how the birds — known as rock doves — manage to find their way back to their roost. Some have suggested they use their sense of smell, while others believe they somehow sense the earth’s magnetic fields.
“I marvel at how they come home every time,” German said. “They can fly hundreds of miles.”
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