Pigeon owner cries foul over Sterling Heights' ban

A Sterling Heights man could face jail time for keeping pet pigeons, and his lawyer is crying foul.

Weam "Wally" Jarbo at his empty pigeon coop with his son, Julius, 6, at their home in Sterling Heights, Mich. on Oct. 21, 2019.

Weam Najib Jarbo spent $80,000 for a city-"specified" coop for his pigeons, which he races as part of a popular sport among some in the Chaldean community, said his lawyer, Gregory Rohl. But he was cited under a city ordinance that essentially bans keeping domesticated pigeons on private property smaller than eight acres.

"The artificial acre limitation imposed by the new enacted statue is tantamount to an overall exclusion given the fact that there are few if any such properties in Sterling Heights," Rohl said.

Jarbo, 49, who emigrated from Iraq in 1976, said Monday he grew up with pigeons and just wants to keep his flock together.

"I've been raising pigeons since I was 10 years old," said Jarbo, who is a member of the National Pigeon Association. "It's an honorable hobby."

Racing pigeons from Belgium that belong to a friend, Rivil Yaldo, at the home of Weam Jarbo in Sterling Heights, Mich. on Oct. 21, 2019.

Jarbo said he was forced to get rid of his pigeons, numbered up to 60, after an inspector said the birds were a nuisance "because they were cooing," or face up to 93 days in jail.

He said he has the birds in safekeeping with a friend and he is hoping a court ruling will allow him to bring them home.

A hearing on a misdemeanor nuisance charge against Jarbo is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday before 41-A District Court Judge Kimberley Wiegand.

Rohl said he has been contacted by 24 other pigeon owners about the city's enforcement of the ordinance governing domesticated pigeons.

Pigeon owners are dedicated to the hobby, he said: "They name the pigeons. They have GPS systems attached to them."

Pigeons are highly prized and one of them commanded a $1 million price tag from a buyer in China, said Rohl.

Efforts to reach the attorney representing Sterling Heights in the legal showdown were not successful.

Rohl said Monday that the new language is discriminatory because it "imposes a direct hardship both economically and ethnically on selection portions of the popular engaged in this particular endeavor."

According to Rohl's legal brief, the local Chaldean community has "long been involved in pigeon racing, having brought this hobby to America from the homeland."

In his complaint, Rohl said his client has a permit for his pigeons and has paid $450 to apply to the Macomb County Racing and Carrying Pigeon Program. 

Jarbo said his pigeons are kept in a clean area that is strictly maintained.

"I followed every guideline (the City of Sterling Heights) had," he said.


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