15 Sep 2014
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Animal Advocates To Talk Solutions To Animals in Circus

Animal advocates who protested the circus in Greenport last month are back to discuss alternatives.

Animal Advocates To Talk Solutions To Animals in Circus
After years of acrimony amongst some residents and animal advocates incensed over the animals featured in the Cole Bros. Circus, hosted by the Greenport Fire Department in recent summers, alternatives are being discussed.

According to John Di Leonardo, president of the Long Island Orchestrating for Nature animal rights organization, he will be attending a Greenport Fire Department wardens meeting on Wednesday, held at the Third Street Firehouse at 7 p.m.

The goal, he said, is to talk about "why we were there, present evidence of abuse, and discuss alternatives."

He added, "We certainly appreciate that the Greenport Fire Department has to fundraise; however, there is no excuse for their support of convicted animal abusers. We are hoping that this is more a case of ignorance than indifference on the part of the Department and would love to help clear up any misunderstandings. Tensions often run high during demonstrations so we are thankful for this opportunity to discuss this issue in another setting. If the Department knew the truth, we are confident they would not be supporting the circus."

Di Leonardo said LION is "more than happy to work with the Greenport Fire Department in finding another, more acceptable fundraiser for the Department, such as a Casino Night, a 5K, or a carnival like many other Departments use."

And, he said, if the fire department wants to "stick with a circus, that can be great too.  There are many animal-free circuses out there, like Cirque Du Soleil and Circus Smirkus.  We would be more than glad to put them in touch with a few."

In July, ca rrying signs and distributing literature that described what some consider the horrors suffered by circus animals, protestors outside the Cole Bros. Circus tent in Greenport sparked controversy.

The small group of animal advocates, representing the LION animal rights group, turned out at the Polo Grounds in Greenport to protest the conditions under which animals are allegedly kept in the circus.

The group protested at each of the  Cole Bros. Circus' scheduled dates, including performances held at the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton. 

According to Di Leondardo, Cole Bros. Circus is currently on United States Department of Agriculture probation for violation of the Endangered Species Act, and their owner and President, John Pugh, is on criminal probation for violation of the Endangered Species Act. 

Cole Bros. Circus, he added, has been cited for multiple violations of the USDA Animal Welfare Act, including failure to provide adequate shelter for animals, physical abuse of elephants and other animals, and endangering the public, resulting in multiple deaths, including a New York resident. 

"Not only are circuses cruel, but public safety is a major concern," said Di Leonardo. "It was not long ago that a Cole Bros. tiger escaped, causing a pile-up and multiple hospitalizations.  These animals don't want to be caged.  They'll do anything to get free." 

Di Leonardo said the alleged animal cruelty is difficult to accept. "It hurts," he said. "I'm an anthrozoologist. It breaks my heart to see elephants being tortured."

Added protestor Liz Downey, "I'm here because animals in circuses are entombed alive," she said. The animals, she said, are kept in sections of a tractor trailer, unable to sit, lie down, or turn — and unable to roam the up to 40 miles per day they would in the wild. Two of the baby elephants in the show, protestors added, were torn away from their mother at a too-young age.

"It's a life of torture, for 15 minutes of tricks," she said. "It's horrifying."

Local residents said they were unhappy that the circus set up its tent in Greenport.

"I have not been to the circus since I was a small child," said Dawn Bennett, dog trainer and owner of North Fork School for Dogs. "I never took my children. These animals do not belong in small cages, traveling the country doing tricks, but this is the world we live in, I'm afraid."

Added Cutchogue resident and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals member Marilyn Flynn, “I’ve always been against animals in circuses; they’re teated abominably. It's insulting to the dignity of these anmals to make an elepant put all its weight on its back feet, and it's hard on them. It's a terrible thing to do to them."

She added that she wrote a letter last year asking that the Greenport Fire Department bring in a circus with no animals. "Here they are; they're back again," she said. 

But according to Cole Bros., much of what is said is rumor and speculation.

"There is a lot of misinformation concerning Cole Bros. Circus' record concerning animal welfare," said Renee Storey, Vice President, Administration of the Cole Bros. Circus. "Over its more than 128 year history, Cole Bros. Circus has been committed to maintaining high animal welfare standards for animals that appear in conjunction with our show. Cole Bros. Circus has never been found to have violated any animal welfare law. Cole Bros. Circus has never been found to have mistreated elephants."

She added, "The humane and responsible care provided by licensed, professional exhibitors at Cole Bros. Circus ensures the health, welfare and safety of all humans and animals involved in the relationship."

Storey also said videos about elephant care and training were recently completed and independently produced by Lane Talburt, member of Circus Fans Association and Circus Historically Society. To view a video, click  here.

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