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Dove Releases and Other Animal Abuse at Weddings

Dove release at weddings

Most of us consider ourselves animal lovers.  Arriving in an elegant horse pulled carriage, walking down the aisle with a cute llama, and releasing snowy white doves at the ceremony sounds like an animal lover’s dream wedding.  Although using animals in weddings is currently trending, the use of elephants, horses, camels, and other animals has existed in certain cultures for centuries. None of us would ever knowingly harm an animal, but how many of us take into account their perspective? How many of us know what happens to the animals before and after the ceremony? In this post I cover dove releases, as well as other forms of animal exploitation.

“The question is not can they think, but can they suffer”

Jeremy Bentham


According to the American Dove Association, doves used in wedding ceremonies are actually homing pigeons.  The industry uses homing pigeons so that they will fly back home, at least in theory.

Sometimes wedding dove vendors will knowingly or unknowingly use white king pigeons or ringneck doves. These birds have no homing ability.  According to an article in Slate, “Dove releases are fairly common in the United States, but there aren’t many laws concerning the abandonment of domestic birds. In most jurisdictions, anyone can walk into a pet store, buy some white ring-neck doves (for about $25 each), and release them at a wedding or a funeral.”

Homing pigeons lack survival skills due to selective breeding and captivity.  Breeders kill birds that aren’t pure white as they’re not marketable. Released pigeons don’t survive very long.  Homing pigeons are flock animals who have difficulty surviving on their own.  They’re too weak to fly and often victims of predators. These include hawks, gulls, ravens, and cats. Here are three famously tragic examples of the problem with exploiting these birds:

If you would like to help these birds, please consider donating to Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions


Related to dove releases are butterfly releases. As is the case with doves, butterflies lack survival skills due to selective breeding and captivity. They are packed in small envelopes and shipped long distances.  Many die en route. The survivors are shipped on ice to keep them dormant.  When the butterflies are released, many don’t fly away, as they’re too weak and disoriented.  Being in a foreign environment, they cannot fend for themselves or find food. Some butterflies end up trampled by guests. If you would like to help the butterflies, please consider donating to Save Our Monarchs Foundation


The use of horses may seem like a far cry from dove releases. But, like all other animals, horses desire freedom. In order for them to perform and serve humans, they have their spirits broken. This means mentally, but it often means physically, too. Horses develop spinal and other bone issues from carrying humans at too young an age. Horses also suffer abuse in various industries from the rodeo to horse racing: Why So Many Horses Have Died at Santa Anita.

Many cities have banned horse drawn carriages, and that number is growing. There are very few protections for horses, especially in the extreme heat of Florida. Protests occur regularly in St. Augustine over this issue. Horses work until the ambient temperature reaches 95 degrees or the heat index reaches 105. This doesn’t even take into account that carriage horses in the city continually breathe in exhaust fumes from automobiles.

Horses develop debilitating leg problems from walking on hard surfaces. They are easily spooked by things like a wedding videographer’s drone. Older horses no longer in service are often sent to slaughter. A piece of metal inserted in their mouths called a “bit” leads to damage of the horse’s teeth and gums. The bit is for controlling the horse’s movements.

Here are some wedding incidents involving horses:

Emily Moran has written some very in-depth articles about Horse Carriages, Horse Riding, and The Effects of The Bit. If you would like to help the horses, please consider donating to Wild Horse Rescue Center


Unfortunately, animals at weddings treated as commodities. There are ethical alternatives to dove releases and other ceremonies that don’t cause exploitation and harm. Seek those out, or better yet, get creative and come up with your own. Let’s leave animal abuse in the past and find a better way forward!


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