On March 31, 2012, Dan Lubniewski—better known by his moniker Birdman of Long Beach—was kicked out of Downtown Long Beach’s City Place Shopping Center for the first time. The disabled Marine Corps veteran was not booted from the center for littering, shoplifting or occupying Walmart but for rescuing pigeons.
“It was the first time that I had a problem with the security,” Lubniewski said. “I’d been rescuing them at Walmart for four or five years. Everyone knew me and I never had a problem there.”
Lubniewski is a battle-scarred, tender-hearted man whom we featured a couple of years ago in a Pet Post. He’s been rescuing pigeons since he saw his first one limping through Lincoln Park years ago and felt sorry for him. In the spirit of full disclosure, Birdman’s been a vocal supporter of the Pet Post as well as for the animals featured in it, but in an equal spirit of balanced journalism, I’m presenting what facts were disclosed to me. Then the columnist will have a word.
On the aforementioned day last year, while he was sitting on the ledge in front of the Walmart trying to untangle the feet of a bird, Lubniewski told me that Doug Cheney, City Place’s security chief, pulled up and told a security guard to inform him that he wouldn’t be allowed to rescue birds there anymore.
“Then he drove off and never said another word to me,” Lubniewski said. “I told the security guy I have been rescuing pigeons there for eight years, and everyone knows it. I asked him if he would call his supervisor and basically tell him I do not think they have the right to stop me from rescuing injured wildlife. The employee flatly refused to call him and said I had to leave. He also said he did not like pigeons and thought they were nasty.”
Not thinking that it was worth a fight, Lubniewski left. That August, someone called him about more wounded wildfowl at Walmart, and this time, he decided to get written authorization from Long Beach Animal Care Services. John Keisler, the former manager of ACS, had utilized Lubniewski’s abilities in the past, and the present manager, Ted Steven, had met him for the first time over a domesticated pigeon who couldn’t make it as urban wildlife (the bird’s name is Patches, and Lubniewski says that he looks like Al Capone).
“I took the bird to him and met him,” Stevens said. “I wanted to actually meet him—I heard a lot about him. If he can do it [rescue a pigeon], it’s one less call for us to make.”
Lubniewski untangling the feet of a pigeon
Lubniewski contacted Stevens with his City Place story and asked for written ACS approval for him to rescue pigeons at City Place. This he received, but once again, he was run off.
“I went back thinking everything’s gonna be fine,” Lubniewski said. “So I sat down on the little ledge at Walmart. The birds are eating out of my hands, and I’m putting the three of them in my carriers—neatest thing you ever seen—and a different security guy came up. He says, what are you doing? I say, I’m rescuing a hurt pigeon. So he gets on the phone and calls Doug Cheney.”
This time, Lubniewski thought, I’m ready. But he said that Cheney told the guard that Animal Control had no authorization to be on the property and to leave again. To make sure that all bases were covered, the guard called the police.
“I stopped doing it [rescuing the birds], and he says I called the cops on you. I said, do you remember asking me to leave? And he thinks for a minute and says, no…. So I said, I guess when the cops get here, you’re going to tell them that I did exactly what you told me, like a good boy, and this is why you’re kicking me out?”
Lubniewski said he then picked up the three carriers with the injured pigeons thankfully inside and left without further word. His next step was to contact the property manager of City Place, Janice Schuerman, who Lubniewski figured would see the absurdity of the situation. After several attempts at contacting her, the manager answered his e-mail and agreed to a meeting, and that’s where it got at least homely.
“That day, I had three calls in a row for help [for injured pigeons]. I couldn’t not help them, so I immediately sent a nice e-mail [to Schuerman] explaining,” he said. But Schuerman and Lubniewski’s schools of thought weren’t located on the same campus. Schuerman, according to Lubniewski, e-mailed him back, admonishing him for choosing three birds over all the possible rescues in City Place. She told him that she’d gone to a lot of trouble gathering together a number of people for the meeting who could have helped him, and finally, she, too, told him to stop rescuing the birds there until she spoke to him.
Lubniewski admittedly wasn’t completely within his rights this time. “I know for certain that she mentioned he was accessing private property, because I clarified for her that I only told him he could go on public property and would need permission to access private property,” Stevens said, recalling a conversation he had with Schuerman after her initial contact with Lubniewski. “I am pretty sure that she said he was going on rooftop areas, and she also said he was feeding the birds and it was making a mess.
Lubniewski told me that he threw birdseed at his feet as a lure and that the rooftop idea was plainly ridiculous. Schuerman did agree to meet up with Lubniewski at a later date, but by this time, he was frustrated and angry, and he responded in kind.
“I sent her an e-mail blasting her, asking why she lied about me,” Lubniewski said. “She never responded to those e-mails.”
Lubniewski, as I mentioned, is a veteran, and one of his combat injuries may have been the loss of his inner censor. Anyone who feels strongly about living creatures is going to balk at the idea that three of any of the species is collateral damage. So, he wrote, “Unacceptable is you expecting me to abandon a injured pigeon that would have died today if I had not rescued him with the threat of never giving me the opportunity to reschedule another meeting if I went through with my rescue. Just let me do what I have been doing there since 2005 and be thankful injured wildlife is being saved and someone actually cares.” He also flatly asked her why she lied to animal control about the seeds and the rooftops, and told her that sure, he’d meet up with her again, but he hoped it wouldn’t be for long because he didn’t think he could stand being with her for any amount of time. Combined with several communications to Schuerman’s office from animal advocates and friends of Lubniewski, Schuerman was apparently (and understandably) put off, and she answered no more of the e-mails.
My attempts to contact Doug Cheney’s office were met with promises that he’d call back, which weren’t kept. I called Schuerman’s office and asked her whether Lubniewski had been rescuing birds on private property; she responded with “We can’t verify that,” and then was heard to vociferously express frustration to someone in the room about the situation.
“You’re entitled to your opinion,” Schuerman said when she got back on the phone. “Remember, there are two sides to every story. I’ve been advised by my attorney not to speak to anyone about this. And there is no story.” I told her that there indeed was; she wished both Lubniewski and me good luck and rang off.
That logic was about as entangled as a pigeon’s foot in front of Walmart—there are two sides to every story, there is no story, I can’t tell you mine.
Even if you feel, as I do, that rescuing any helpless living thing is a humane act, this was a lot of flap over something that could have been resolved if everyone (including Lubniewski) had been more civil and had tried to see how birds of a different feather flock. Schuerman had her responsibilities and she had every right to tell anyone what he or she might do on City Place property. Lubniewski, furthermore, had been told to conduct rescues on public property.
On the other hand—and here comes the pet columnist—Lubniewski cannot stand to see the suffering of any helpless creature. I’ve witnessed this. He’s a gentle person and partial to pigeons, but he’s helped dogs, cats and a number of human beings. Even if you detest pigeons and call them sky rats, as a close relative does (one crapped on his hat), substitute dogs or cats or children or helpless, hopeless people in place of pigeons, and you’ll understand the Birdman’s heart.
The annual summing up of this year’s events in the media has been full of horror, inhumanity and violence toward other human beings. The most important point I think this story makes is the example of compassion that Lubniewski demonstrates through his rescues.
When I went with him to the area in front of the Walmart, I noticed two things: The rooftops were inaccessible to anyone without a crane or access to the building, and there were, I’ll so describe them, loiterers everywhere. The LBPD crime statistics for this reporting district (164) total 379 for this year (if I’m interpreting correctly), and December stats haven’t even come up. Why run off someone like Lubniewski who, as he wrote in one of his e-mails, has dedicated his own life to saving those of others? Children (and adults) need to see examples of active kindness that they can pass forward, and not just to pigeons, of course. But it’s a flying good start.
I have developed a deep respect for animals. I consider them fellow living creatures with certain rights that should not be violated any more than those of humans.
~ Jimmy Stewart
Check out these post-Christmas treasures at Long Beach ACS, 7700 E. Spring St. on the shelter side. They need to be taken home and given up-to-date names.
Kringle, male brown-and-white pit bull/terrier, almost 2 years old, ID#A482233
Dancer, male orange tabby, about 4 months old, ID#A481171. Dancer has a twin, Blitzen, who is also male and looks exactly like his brother. Matching set—go for it! He’s ID#A481172.
Prancer, male black domestic shorthair, 4 months old, ID#A481170.
To Jan. 18: Poster Dog for Literacy Sought!
We know that your dog is supercanine as well as superhuman—whose isn’t? In honor of the featured selection of Long Beach Reads One Book (March 12–19), Garth Stein’s best-seller The Art of Racing in the Rain, one local dog will win the contest for Long Beach Enzo, named for the book’s narrator. “Enzo is no ordinary dog,” said Susan Redfield, chair of Book Week. “He is a philosopher with a nearly human soul and an obsession with opposable thumbs.”
Enzo watches television, has his own philosophy of life and looks up to his human, race-car driver Denny Swift.
“So we’re looking for that loveable, curious, and wise dog who can carry the legacy of Enzo in our many Book Week activities,” said Mary E. Barton, vice chair of Long Beach Reads One Book.
Long Beach Reads One Book, March 12–19, Various Long Beach Venues
Author Garth Stein will highlight a week of dog-themed and racing-themed events when he appears March 19 at the Carpenter Center for Performing Arts. Long Beach Reads One Book is in its 12th year, featuring books for both young and old, with twin goals of promoting the joy of reading and community building. “We are one of the longest-running programs of its type in the country and certainly one of the most popular,” said Susan Redfield, Book Week’s chair. In addition to the author’s appearance, events throughout the city will include a major family-friendly dog celebration at a local park, an expert panel on the benefits of pet ownership, a racing history of the City, a multiprize geocaching challenge, and library programs. Details will be posted as they are confirmed on their website, on Facebook at Long Beach Reads One Book and here on Pet Post.