This word is the only thing on their minds after Mobley releases them at a wedding, funeral or special event.
Home to the flock of doves is a 12-by-24 loft situated between U.S. 72 and the Tennessee River.
The loft is where Mobley breeds, feeds and cares for his doves. When they are six weeks old, he begins teaching his doves to understand the meaning of the word home.
Mobley begins the teaching process by letting them learn their loft and its surroundings.
After they have successfully learned how to get through a trap designed to let them in the loft, but not back out, Mobley turns them loose.
“They go out, and they will crawl around the trap for a day or two,” he said. “Then one of them will jump off and finally fly. Then they get out there and, boy, they play with them wings. They’re like a fighter plane. Pretty soon all of them are out there flying.”
But that doesn’t end the learning process for these doves, which provide a symbol of peace in times of strife or sorrow. Two to three weeks after their initial flight near the loft, the doves gain confidence and further their exploration of the sky. Shortly after this small sign of independence, the learning curve spikes.
“When they stay gone 45 minutes or something like that on their own, I’ll start loading them up in a crate,” Mobley explained. “I’ll take them off a mile away from the house and turn them loose. Well, 30 to 40 minutes, here they come. They finally figured out how to get home, so I take them a little further. I take them two miles, three miles, five miles.”
Mobley continues to lengthen the distance until he’s driving them out 50 miles from home. Mobley stops driving his doves out for training at 50 miles even though he knows they could return from much further.
“It’s my own limit,” he said. “Birds are like little athletes. They can fly 200 miles easy. They can fly like, 600 miles in a day.”
Mobley’s doves that have completed their training use it to guide themselves home from as far away as Huntsville. No matter what the distance, the doves rely on more than just their training. Mobley sites their natural instinct and recognition of landmarks as the top two tools that aid them in their journey home.
“Scientists believe that the birds can detect and maybe even see the Earth’s magnetic field,” he said. “If they can detect it, then they know north, south, east and west. They can sense what direction is home.”
If one doesn’t show up at home after a release, Mobley doesn’t sweat it. He knows predators are abundant in the skies. However, if there are more than three missing he gets concerned.
He can’t go in search of his birds. He has to rely on the dove’s determination to get home.
“A lot of times the birds are so determined to make it home that they will fly three days. All day long, all three days looking for home,” he said. “By the third day they have lost so much body mass that they aren’t able to fly anymore, so they will end up sitting down on somebody’s house.”
The doves all have tags with Mobley’s contact information on their legs. If he gets a call about a lost dove he’ll go fetch the dove or take other doves to show the lost one its way home.
In addition to training, Mobley spends about four hours a week ensuring the doves live in an environment free of sickness and disease. He wants to keep his doves healthy not only because they are like his children, he said, but because of their ability to assist him in creating something beautiful. His services are called upon in times of celebration, but most often in times of need.
Joel Daugherty, managing funeral director and embalmer at Greenview Funeral Home and Memorial Park in Florence, has seen the beauty Mobley and his doves bring to those mourning the loss of a loved one.
“It gives them closure that their loved one has gone up into the wild blue yonder,” Daugherty said. “It offers closure and peace.”
Daugherty recognizes Mobley’s professionalism and dedication while on the job, he said. Most importantly Daugherty sees a key characteristic in Mobley that will ensure a job well done. Daugherty sees Mobley’s passion.
“I love to help people with their healing process and it does,” Mobley said. “When I go out there and release that single dove, it is actually like they are turning loose the spirit of their mother, their father, or their child. It is like they are releasing it to the heavens.”
And just as the doves spiral into the air toward that place Mobley taught them to call home, Mobley hopes friends and family can heal knowing that their loved one has found a new home.