Read the original article by Sean D. Hamill at post-gazette.com here.
Animal rights groups are objecting to two monitors a judge recently approved to keep watch over the elephants, tigers and lions at the Shrine Circus when it comes to Pittsburgh in September.
Humane Action Pittsburgh, the local animal rights group that successfully pushed for a new city ordinance last yearbanning the use of any painful instruments in controlling wild or exotic animals, and the national animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals object to the appointment of the monitors. Brad Gordon, an equine veterinarian from Iowa and a former Columbus Zoo employee, and Paul Reed, a Westmoreland County humane officer, were appointed earlier in August.
“We would have much preferred that the monitor be the person we suggested who the circus objected to, Cindy Machado,” said Natalie Ahwesh, vice president for Humane Action. “For Cindy and her team, [monitoring animals] is what they do. And they appeared to us to be impartial. They work with law enforcement regularly.”
Ms. Machado is the director of animal services for Marin Humane Society in Novato, Calif.
“But we’d have to fly her in from California and pay for all of that,” said Paul Leavy, circus organizer for the Shriners since 1993. “And she had all this anti-circus stuff on her website. We showed the judge that and he rejected her.”
The appointment of monitors came up as part of a lawsuit the Syria Shriners filed last year objecting to the new Pittsburgh ordinance that bans the use of bullhooks, whips or other instruments deemed abusive in the control of wild or exotic animals.
The Shriners argue that their insurance policy dictates they use bullhooks — a pointed hook atop a long handle — to control elephants. And imposing the ban, they say, could lead to the shutdown of the circus, since the animals are the main attraction.
Mr. Leavy said the battle over the monitors that played out quietly over the summer in court “has nothing to do with monitoring the animals; it’s just part of the continuing effort to stop the Shriners’ circus.”
After the lawsuit was filed in May, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph James stayed enforcement of the ordinance in connection with the Shriners, allowing this year’s 69th Shrine Circus to operate without the ban.
But Judge James also ordered that both sides reach agreement on some monitors to keep tabs on the wild animals — elephants, lions and tigers at this year’s circus — during the five shows scheduled for Sept. 14-16 at PPG Paints Arena.
After the city proposed a list made up of city police officers and humane officers in July, the circus objected, Mr. Leavy said, because “unfortunately they had no one who was trained to monitor animals or was licensed or had a zoological affiliation, as was agreed.”
So on Aug. 1, the circus proposed Dr. Gordon and Mr. Reed, and the city did not object, said Mr. Leavy.
Even though the city didn’t object, Ms. Ahwesh said Humane Action is upset with the selection of Dr. Gordon because “we would consider him to be circus-affiliated.”
That’s because he was part of a case involving an abused elephant named Nosey that stayed for a time at Dr. Gordon’s equine center in Iowa.
Mr. Leavy said Dr. Gordon was selected because he is a veterinarian, has a zoological background through his prior work at the Columbus Zoo and knows how federal laws are enforced.
Mr. Reed was appointed specifically for his knowledge of state animal rights laws, which were overhauled last year, Mr. Leavy said.
Ms. Ahwesh found that argument odd.
“If they wanted someone with law enforcement experience, why did they object to Cindy Machado, who is the nation’s leader in this [monitoring] field and has worked extensively with law enforcement?” she asked.
Rachel Mathews, associate director of captive animal law enforcement with the PETA Foundation, said PETA also objects to the monitors, in part because the circus has provided no information publicly about them to demonstrate their abilities.
Mr. Leavy said there is no set time for the monitors to visit the animals while they’re in Pittsburgh.
“That wouldn’t be fair” to set times, he said. “That’s not the right way to play. I’d rather have it be random as possible.”
“Listen,” he added, “we want it to be a clean bill of health in the end, too.”
And it probably will be, said Ms. Ahwesh, because “most of the animal abuse occurs during training, not in the PPG Arena or performance areas.”
That is harder to track, she said, because each group of animals is owned and trained by small exhibitors who are contracted by the Shriners to bring them to the performance.
“So the Shriners will say, and they’re not wrong, that they have never had an [animal abuse] citation,” she said. “But many of the exhibitors they’ve employed in the past have many, many citations” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which typically enforces laws involving wild and exotic animals.
Mr. Leavy would not say which exhibitors are bringing animals to this year’s circus.
But he expects the monitors to produce a written report after the three days of shows, something “I’m sure the court will want a copy of.”