- FILED UNDER
- Rekha Basu
"Well there's a rose in the fisted glove. And the eagle flies with the dove. And if you can't be with the one you love, Honey, love the one you're with."
- Stephen Stills
The eagle and dove must part.
As millions of hearts have been warmed watching a pair of Decorah eagles waiting for their eggs to hatch, many Iowans can hardly look at a dove without a sick stirring in the pits of our stomachs. Lawmakers' decision to lift a 97-year ban on shooting the bird - symbol of peace, subject of poetry - has hit not just animal-welfare activists but also hunters and war veterans.
A letter arrived last week adorned with American flags, bald eagles and "Proud to be an American" stickers. It was from 86-year old Juel Haaland of Ames, who was born to Norwegian immigrants, raised on a farm and an avid hunter before serving in the Pacific in World War II. He shared this story:
"When I was 8 years old I got a new BB gun and went around shooting everything. I didn't think about the two doves who were sitting on a fence in our driveway and I promptly took aim and shot one. The other dove sat on the fence, grieving over the loss of his mate until finally my Dad shot it too.
"I kept asking myself, 'What did you do that for?' The image of the dead dove followed me all the while in Okinawa and it still haunts me to this day."
With each death he has witnessed, up to this day, he pictures that dove "sitting on the fence and grieving over its mate." Maybe it became symbolic of the cruelty of warfare. Maybe someone who has seen a lot of death feels especially stirred by needless killing.
"It wouldn't hurt anything," Haaland wrote of the dove. "For what little meat value there is, it's not worth it." My late father, Romen Basu, a hunter and book author, learned a similar lesson. He wrote a short story titled, "Why Kill a Dove?" This week Shirley Renfro, a 92-year-old from Colfax, took lawmakers to task in a letter to the editor for diminishing her quality of life by allowing dove hunting.
Bill supporters may shrug off opponents as emotional, even illogical, for drawing the line at a particular bird. But emotion shouldn't be scoffed at, and doves are special. They're mentioned in the holy texts of most major religions and featured universally in anti-war campaigns. Ironically, Iowa has just been named one of the 10 most peaceful states while it's getting ready to allow killing the bird of peace.
Some say there's challenge in dove shooting. But as Renfro wrote, "Hunting doves is no sport. The doves move so slowly that they won't have a chance." Some argue there are plenty of doves, so there won't be a shortage. Which is to miss the point that, to dove lovers, every single one has value.
It is human to feel pain when a living creature is needlessly hurt or killed. It's not a sign of weakness but of having a heart. Too many of us are conditioned to separate feelings from reason, as if they're mutually exclusive. But empathy and compassion should be the core of all public policy. I want to be represented by someone who grieves over an abused dog and rejoices at an eagle hatching.
Michigan voters five years ago overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure permitting dove shooting. Prominent businesses, religious groups, actors and animal welfare organizations waged a media campaign against it. But Iowans didn't have time to campaign. The House bypassed public comment by not putting the bill through a committee. It got bipartisan support and next to no debate in the Senate and was swiftly signed by the governor.
But there is one step left. The seven-member Iowa Natural Resource Commission has to approve it. They appear to have the votes - but maybe not if they hear enough opposition. If you don't want the cooing of doves silenced by the firing of gunshots, let them know.