LOS ANGELES &
The dossier spills over into two drawers of files full of hand-scribbled notes, maps marked with sharp black dots &
and snapshots of a shadowy figure, scattering bird seed.
This is Laura Dodson's Nemesis.
There was a time when Dodson went after the crack dealers in her Hollywood neighborhood with such a vengeance that city officials honored her with a plaque. Now, she has declared war on another urban scourge. For three years, she has enlisted snitches, set up overnight stakeouts, appealed for help from city leaders and the police.
Her quarry? Pigeon lady Susie Kourinian, the furtive form in the photos.
Kourinian is no ordinary bird lover. She earns her seed money as a seamstress to the stars; she appeared in InStyle magazine tweaking Cate Blanchett's hem, and is said to keep actresses such as Megan Mullally in finery.
That glittery occupation gives Kourinian the wherewithal to make a lot of pigeons happy. Kourinian once told police she spends $65,000 a year on bird feed &
enough to dump 500 pounds of birdseed every day, a lifeline for the more than 5,000 pigeons who now populate the two square miles of this neighborhood northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Kourinian is reputedly so crafty that within moments, she can pop the trunk of her black sport utility vehicle, scatter 75 pounds of pigeon feed and disappear into the night.
She has been doing this for a decade, police say, but neither they nor Dodson's small band of pigeon patrollers &
dubbed "Citizen Pigeon" &
have been able to stop her.
"When you realize how many hours and manpower it takes to catch her ... ," Dodson said. "She's got the perfect crime because who else would have the resources to do this?"
Across the nation, a virtual war on pigeons has been waged in many ways: poisonings, electric wires, robotic falcons and even bird relocations to pigeon farms. In some places the mere mention of feeding bans has raised the ire of legions of pigeon fanciers who ridicule efforts to levy fines for tossing birds a handful of bread crumbs.
But pigeons will reproduce based on the amount of food available. In Hollywood, they have.
Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with the Humane Society who has developed pigeon control programs around the country, said she's never seen anything like it. To get a sense of how bad the problem was, she once scattered some bread in a Hollywood parking lot.
Within moments, the bread was gone and thousands of eyes were upon her. An eerie cooing suggested they wanted more.
"I've traveled in Europe, I've been to New York City many, many times, Washington D.C. and Chicago ... places that claim to have pigeon problems. They do, but compared to Hollywood, it's not even a fair comparison," Boyles said.
Critics maintain that pigeons do millions of dollars in damage a year nationwide. Their guano is caustic, and has been blamed for all sorts of problems, from poor water quality in Pismo Beach to the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge.
In Hollywood, critics say, the pigeons conflict with a beautification program aimed at reviving the famed neighborhood, for years blighted by dingy sex shops along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. When officials took down the marquee of Grauman's Chinese Theatre to refurbish the building, pigeon guano had completely corroded the metal.
Legions of pigeons sit waiting for food on rooftops, under freeways and telephone lines, prompting business owners to put up canopies and umbrellas to protect customers.
"If I were to feed 5,000 cats a day, you know how many cats we'd see a year from now?" said Thaddeus Smith, who once used a jackhammer to get guano off the roof of his Music Box nightclub. "When we walk to lunch we see bird seed everywhere and thousands of pigeons sitting on wires saying 'hmmm.'"
Kourinian declined to comment for this story. For years residents would periodically see her feeding birds but never knew how much. To get an idea, Dodson and a half dozen Citizen Pigeon members staked out various corners of Tinseltown. At about — a.m. one night they finally caught Kourinian mid-feed, but became so flustered they lost the trail.
"We actually videotaped her putting down three 25-pound bags," Dodson said. "We were so excited we about peed our pants and couldn't follow her."
Dodson, a slight, frenetic woman, has had some brief conversations with the elusive bird feeder but has not been able to persuade her to stop. She recalled one particularly memorable exchange:
Kourinian: "You're ruining my life."
Dodson: "I didn't mean to. I'm just trying to clean up the city and the mess you've made with your birds."
Kourinian: "They're not my birds. They're God's birds."
In the course of her work, Dodson started a sort of Pigeon Feeders Anonymous. She gained insight into the mind of a bird feeder by counseling one 72-year-old woman.
Diane Goldberg grew up as a foster child and had always had a soft spot for animals, especially ones no one cared for &
like pigeons, which are "at the bottom of the bird heap." With Dodson's encouragement, Goldberg is trying to cut down her relatively modest six-scoop-a-day habit. Her husband scribbled a schedule on the back of a bag of birdseed reminding Goldberg to cut back every two weeks.
"I just feel like they're there and they're hungry," Goldberg said of the pigeons. "I just feel like if I can alleviate a bird's hunger, it helps me. I've just gotten to a point where it's gotten out of hand."
When it came to Kourinian, who was dumping hundreds of pounds of birdseed in at least 29 spots around the city, the determined men and women of Citizen Pigeon decided they had to take more drastic measures.
Dodson recruited a woman who lives out of a van on a city street to call when Kourinian came around. She also persuaded a local store to post a photo of the seamstress behind the counter and cut off her supply of birdseed.
For a time, the group enlisted police officer Catherine Massey, who told Kourinian the feedings were a huge problem. If she continued, Massey said, Kourinian would eventually be arrested.
Kourinian cried, agreed that she needed help and she disappeared. But two weeks later piles of birdseed appeared again, Massey said.
The next time, the officer asked if her husband knew what was going on.
"He knows I have a problem but I cannot stop," Massey recalled her saying. "I love the birds and they need to be looked after."
Aides to one city councilman pleaded with Kourinian to stop. City officials considered a law banning pigeon feeding &
an idea that lost support when an aging pigeon feeder in a wheelchair openly wept at a meeting.
Exasperated, Dodson finally wrote a letter to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They suggested a two-pronged approach that included both a public awareness campaign and deployment of a new drug called Ovocontrol P that acts as a bird birth control.
Citizen Pigeon raised enough money to install five rooftop automatic feeders with medication for the next year and installed cameras to watch the birds eat online. After four months, the 438 pigeon regulars in one spot dropped to just below 40.
Concerned that Kourinian could one day outwit her, Dodson decided she may have to spend every morning patrolling her little community, topping off fresh piles of bird seed with Ovocontrol pellets. She has looked into becoming licensed as a pest controller.
Still, she feels that she has turned the tide of guano. The other day, a triumphant Dodson said she spotted the bird lady from her car.
"She looked straight at me," Dodson said. "I looked straight at her and waved."
A cat-and-bird game plays out in the streets of Tinseltown
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