Whenever Julia Gaunt unleashes doves in ceremonies through her Asheville White Dove Releases business, she helps people release such feelings as joy and remembrance.
Joy is at weddings, remembrance is at funerals.
Asheville’s “Dove Lady” used to be called the “Hat Lady,” for what is now her side business of making hats. Her main work has been with doves, since 2005. The Southern California native, who has lived in Asheville since 1980, keeps 70 rock doves (white racing pigeons) in two lofts at her home’s front yard in Woodfin. They are not caged and “couped up,”; rather, they fly freely within her yard.
As homing pigeons, they know their way back to her place. Some are trained to fly there from one direction, others from the other way. Thus, she assigns birds to a gig according to its location relative to her home.
She releases various numbers of birds at an event, with prices varying. Two doves at a wedding signify the bride and groom. They fly off together, with an option of having them lead a flock behind them.
Most common at a funeral is deploying four birds, with three flying in a holy trinity formation. They represent the Father, Son and Holy Ghost spirit. This trio flies to the fourth bird, representing the soul of the deceased person, and direct it into their formation then fly away together.
The sight provides an “uplifting spirit and celebration of life,” Gaunt said. “It’s incredibly rewarding to help people who’ve lost loved ones, by helping give them comfort and peace.”
This also demonstrates doves’ instincts, she noted. “If one bird goes astray, the entire flock circles back and takes that bird in. Together, they head home. It’s an amazing experience.” Gaunt said “I love watching them circle,” before flying off. They would resist even coming out of their baskets, if it was already dark, Gaunt added. She also does not release them in severe storms, looking out for their safety.
These racing pigeons have been bred for generations to find their way home, from up to 600 miles away. She limits them to a 90-mile radius. They can fly up to 60 miles per hour. They must reach home before it gets dark, so they recognize the path.
She has released doves at about 800 funerals in eight years, averaging 100 per year. Her latest event, early last week, was at Westwood Baptist Church in Asheville. Doves reflected the transition, from the church’s prior pastor to a new one. At the summer Afro-Caribbean Goombay Festival in Asheville, her birds have taken off to R. Kelly’s pop ballad “I Believe I Can Fly” for opening or closing ceremonies. Ten civic leaders each open a basket, to release a dove.
When she releases a group of birds, Gaunt said, “the beauty of releasing a flock is a sense of community.”
Not all of her doves work as formation fliers. She keeps two birds inside her home. One is a pigeon she rescued. The other is one of three ring necked doves, a “therapy” bird that children pet. These doves cannot find their way back home.
Gaunt was 9 years old when she had a pet parakeet. She had wished for one for Christmas. To her amazement, a stray bird came out of the sky and she saw that “it flew onto grandpa’s car.” She later raised parrots, in a large “aviary” enclosure.
Gaunt has three daughters, and five grandchildren. The youngest, a girl 20 months old, delights at her birds when visiting.
For more on her business, call Julia Gaunt at 582-9115 or first check http://ashevillewhitedovereleases.com.