The white dove stretches out its wings and takes flight across a crystalline blue sky.
On a wedding day, the sight may bring joy to a bride and groom and their families. On the day of a funeral, that same soaring bird may offer comfort to a gathering of bereaved onlookers.
Whatever the response, these high-flying white rock doves are birds with a purpose, says Daniel Hash, owner of United Doves in Kaysville.
"We feel there's a more important calling to what we do," says Hash, who promises his birds will deliver an "inspirational experience."
Hash is one of several Top of Utahns specializing in white dove releases for weddings, funerals and other occasions ranging from baptisms to quinceaneras to retirement parties.
A Memorial Day tribute at Ogden's George E. Wahlen Veterans Home, for example, ended last May with the release of a flock of snowy birds by Wasatch White Dove Release of Ogden.
"White doves represent peace and happiness and hope," says owner Roger Miller. "They're a peaceful bird, and people like seeing them."
Kris Neville says 21-dove salutes are a specialty offered at the funerals of veterans by her business, Unforgettable Doves of Hooper.
"When it's the most dramatic is right at the end of 'Taps,' when that last note of 'Taps' is hanging in the air, you just open the basket and release the birds," Neville says.
Although doves seem to be a magical component of special events in movies or on TV, Top of Utah experts say the trend is still fairly new in the Beehive State and slow to catch on.
"Pardon the pun, but the business didn't take flight," says Neville, whose family started doing dove releases four or five years ago.
Hash started United Doves at his former home in Arkansas, where his birds took part in three or four events per weekend. Since moving back to Utah in 2009, he has only occasional bookings. Many don't realize such a service is available, he says.
Wasatch White Dove Release flies about once a month, with funerals more popular than weddings, Miller says.
A dove release was part of Brooke Dykster's wedding on June 29, held in the backyard of a home at the mouth of Ogden Canyon.
"We thought it would be romantic," says Dykster, whose mother heard about the idea and arranged it with Neville's Unforgettable Doves. Dykster and her husband, Trent, had no decorative arches or backdrops for the wedding -- just the natural outdoor setting of trees and ponds that seem to be a good fit for the birds, she says.
"As soon as we kissed, she opened the cage and the doves flew out above us," Dykster says.
Allie Schroeder definitely wanted doves last August for her wedding reception, which had an old-fashioned theme.
"That's so classic to have the doves," Schroeder says, adding, "You always just hear about white doves symbolizing love."
Since she was missing "something blue" on her list of must-have wedding items, Schroeder asked United Doves to display two white birds inside a bird cage painted blue.
At a typical dove release, the rock doves -- actually a type of homing pigeon -- are transported in special cages or baskets to the event. The birds wait quietly, except for a little cooing now and then, until their container is opened so they can fly out.
Generally, the doves will circle the area a few times to get their bearings, and then head off on their flight home, says Hash, who has hundreds of birds living in a barn and loft in Willard.
Sometimes the handlers release the birds; other times, participants in the event may be involved, whether it's a bride and groom at a wedding, or family members at a funeral.
One wedding involved a couple who included their children: "After the ceremony was done, the kids grabbed a dove and released them, joining the two families," said Jennifer Hash, Dan's wife.
Josh Cypers started doing dove releases as a hobby in January. He got the idea after he and his wife had doves at their own wedding. He was familiar with the birds because he had used pigeons to train his hunting dogs.
The Ogdenite, who runs Wedding Doves, says he does mostly weddings and believes couples enjoy the bird releases because "it's a symbolic thing -- the doves and pigeons mate for life."
Hash says he is often asked to bring doves to funerals, with a popular request for just four birds to be released. Three birds are let go first, representing God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, he says, and then the fourth bird flies out to join them, representing the departed person's spiritual journey home.
"It just touches them in a way that's hard to explain," Hash says. "It's kind of letting go, but it's also a way of knowing their loved ones are going back to their creator."
LeAnn Conger, whose Syracuse family has run Hunter Creek Doves for about five years, says she treasures a photo taken at the funeral of her own mother of a single dove flying over the casket -- wings outstretched.
The act is akin to saying, "Go -- fly," she says.
Although some releasers share poetry or remarks about of the symbolism of the birds, Pam Staich, who runs the Highland-based Wings of Love, says she prefers not to use any spoken words as the birds are released.
"Their flight speaks for itself," she says.
A nurse by profession, Staich says bird releases can have a healing effect. Her doves have taken part in events designed to help those who are grieving, or those who have known someone who committed suicide.
At such occasions, Staich may allow people to put messages on the birds' legs before they're released -- "of things that were left unsaid."
Kim Wixon says dove releases have been featured for the past three years at Memorial Day ceremonies at the George E. Wahlen Veterans Home commemorating the lives of veterans or their spouses.
"It's just a very nice sentimental way to remember those veterans who have passed away since last year," says Wixon, the state officer for the Ogden home.
When she gets married this September, Natlyn Trammell will feature a dove release during her ceremony arranged through Hash's United Doves franchise near her home in North Little Rock, Ark.
Trammell and her fiance, Lashon McDaniel, plan to release a single white dove at their outdoor wedding in memory of Trammell's deceased mother.
"It's a very significant way to show my love and appreciation for her, and that we miss her here at the wedding," Trammell says in a phone interview from Arkansas.
Neville says she often offers to do a dove release as a gift at a funeral -- like that of Ogden City Police officer Jared Francom -- because it's something unique she can do that might "ease a little pain."
For many, the sight of the birds taking flight is memorable.
"We've been doing it for years," Neville says, "and there are still times when we are awed by it."