White Doves of Ko'olau
When Maureen Nakashima began her second act in life 11 years ago, she literally was doing it on a wing and a prayer.
"I had just lost my job at the Hawaiian Waikiki Beach Hotel in a mass layoff. I had no idea what to do next, but I knew we had these rock doves as pets, and I'd seen them at weddings and funerals. I thought I'd try my hand at that," she says.
After training her doves to fly back home from any location around Oahu, Nakashima hung the proverbial shingle on her door and called her new business White Doves of Ko'olau. It's a bird release service that helps people commemorate important events in their life. Though they can be hired for any type of event (birthdays, graduations, homecomings, you name it), they're most often booked for weddings and memorials.
Pastor Karen Russ of Weddings of Hawaii often works with Nakashima at ceremonies. She says the birds are always met with oohs and aahs from the audience. "The dove symbolizes love and peace, and doves mate for life. To see two white doves flying into the sky at the end of a wedding is so beautiful. It's a metaphor for the newlyweds' future taking flight."
Sometimes the couple will request a second basket of doves to be released, after the first pair. "That symbolizes the family and friends that will support this marriage throughout their lives, to say they're not alone on this journey," adds Russ.
Nakashima's is one of two bird release services on this island. The other is Rainbow Pigeons Hawaii, and she hired them at her own wedding in 1996. "The difference between Rainbow Pigeons Hawaii and me is that his doves are rainbow colored and mine are pure white," she explains.
The first year was hard, she recalls. She lacked experience, so she had to wing it in certain situations.
Over a decade has passed, and hers is now a thriving business. "I love all animals, and I love that this job has let me get a glimpse of all walks of life. I've met important people and gone to fancy places I otherwise would not have," Nakashima says of her job.
We are sitting in her cool, verdant Kaneohe garden, listening to the calming sounds of dozens of doves cooing from their cages. Other wild birds find their way and visit. Two pet ducks waddle around the lush green lawn. Inside, there's a cat, dog, and another bird. Along the sides of the house are ten thousand gallons worth of fish and marine life.
While she and her husband Dennis love animals, the irony is that animals don't always love Maureen. "I'm allergic to my pets. I get monthly allergy shots at the doctor," she laughs. But it's worth it. "They're our babies, " she says. It's nice to know that her babies have brought joy to hundreds of people over the years.
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