May 8, 2008 – 11:41PM
By Kevin Sieff, The Brownsville Herald
Ramon Vazquez’s annual trip from the Rio Grande Valley to the Pacific Northwest is always long, but it has never been this tumultuous.
As co-owner of Circus Vazquez, which is incorporated in Brownsville, Vazquez has brought his show to cities along the West Coast for more than a decade. But this year, after one of the circus’ six tigers was found dead in its cage in late March, the tour hit its first of many speedbumps. It was discovered that the animal had been attacked and killed by one or more of the five tigers with which it shared a cage.
After the tiger’s death, members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals took action. They urged fairgrounds to cancel shows at which Circus Vazquez was scheduled to appear.
“Their treatment of animals is absolutely appalling,” said Lisa Wathne, a spokesman for PETA. “It’s difficult to imagine why a fair would allow them to appear.”
Employees at Puyallup Fair & Events Center outside of Tacoma, Wash., where Circus Vazquez is scheduled to appear from May 16-20, have received nearly 2,000 emails from PETA members, requesting that the shows be cancelled.
“(PETA members) are following us everywhere,” Ramon Vazquez said. “But they need to understand-we’re doing exactly what the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) asks … These are wild animals and we try to stay in control.”
Circus Vazquez was founded in Mexico City in 1969 and started an American tour in the mid-1990s.
In 2004, the USDA found the circus violated several rules related to the tigers’ living conditions. Since then, its record has been clean.
The USDA’s last inspection of Circus Vazquez on April 28 found no violations of federal animal welfare laws.
Because of the circus’ USDA approval, the Puyallup Fair decided not to cancel Circus Vazquez’s shows.
“Everyone has a right to express their concern,” said Karen LaFlamme, a Puyallup Fair spokeswoman, “but we felt comfortable having them.”
Puyallup Fair’s decision might only intensify opposition to the Brownsville circus. According to Wathne, protests are already being planned in Washington. PETA opposes all circuses that use animals, but Vazquez is “beyond the pale,” she said.
“We respect what PETA wants,” Vazquez said, “but for every person who doesn’t want to see animals in a circus there are a hundred who do.”