Released at a wedding or a funeral, white doves represent eternal love and peace. But for one Nova Scotia veterinarian, they can also represent an animal welfare problem. 

Helene Van Doninck, a veterinarian at the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, said she's seen about 10 dead or injured doves this summer, possibly hurt after they were released for a special event.

In some cases they were brought to her for treatment, in others she was sent photos showing their fate.

"I know people think it's a romantic thing, to let them off to memorialize a person or a wedding," she told CBC's Information Morning.

"If it's not a reputable situation then a lot of those birds aren't going to make it home, or are going to end up in a bad way."

Van Doninck said she's treated birds with tags, which indicate they're domesticated, that show signs of starvation or injuries from being attacked by hawks.

Hawks a hazard

Vatican No More Doves

A crow attacks a dove released at the Vatican in 2014. (Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press)

Doves are like homing pigeons and are supposed to return home after being released. But losing some to hawks is inevitable, according to Carlyle Smith, who has operated White Dove Releases in Fall River, N.S., for 13 years. 

"We've flown from all over the Maritimes and they've come in various states, they come in with hawk damage," he said. "We had one come in this spring that had been gone for two and a half years."

Smith's flock, which are not doves but a kind of racing bird called a Sion pigeon, consists of 60 birds for flying and 12 for breeding. He said losses of 10 per cent a year would be acceptable.  

'Some pigeons just don't have it'

Smith said while he's careful with his flock and takes steps to ensure that they're safe from predators, he can't prevent all damage or ensure that every bird makes it home.

"Some pigeons just don't have it," he said. "You can train them, you can do whatever you want with them and they just don't have it, so the only way to sort that out is to give them a toss and see how they do."

Helene Van Doninck Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Veterinarian Helene Van Doninck is the founder of Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, a non-profit staffed by volunteers. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Van Doninck suggested that anyone who wants to release doves at an event should seek out an established business such as the one operated by Smith.

"It's buyer beware just like any other industry. If it's someone that's reputable, [who] does it a lot, that's one thing. But if it's someone who releases with very little identification, I would be a little skeptical." 

With files from CBC's Information Morning