Animal activists upset over mall event featuring lions and tigers
Saturday, September 12, 2009
By Anne Sullivan
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TAYLOR — When Judi Vig, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, saw exotic animals on display Wednesday at Southland Center, it sent alarms off in her mind.
She called City Hall to check that everything was in order with the display and to voice concerns about the animals’ welfare.
Vig said PETA has had issues with G.W. Exotic Animals of Wynnewood, Okla., which houses the animals Awakening Production uses.
Awakening Production came to Southland with lion and tiger cubs and a baby kangaroo.
It set up a display where people could see the animals, and if they wanted, pay $25 for two people to spend eight minutes in a cage with tiger cubs and a trainer.
Today is the show’s last day.
Awakening Production had not obtained a permit to hold a special event, which is required, said Joseph Nardone, the city’s executive director of development services.
A representative of the company came to City Hall with a letter from Southland Center giving permission for the event and to seek a permit, he said.
Ordinance and animal control officers investigated the complaint, he said.
Animal control officers found no violations, city officials said. The permit was issued.
As of Thursday afternoon, the company was in compliance with all city ordinances, Nardone said.
“Getting to touch a baby tiger is a moment in a lifetime,” said Michael Bussey, stage manager for Awakening Production.
“You’re seated. You go in with a certified trainer. The tigers will roam around the cage, crawl on your lap, and you can pet them.”
There were plenty of takers, from young children to a 93-year-old woman, he said. But mainly, it was young families, especially mothers with their children.
Awakening Production also put on a free magic show each day. The purpose behind the magic show is to educate the public about ownership of exotic animals, Bussey said.
It booked several visits with General Growth Properties, which owns Southland Center and other malls across the country, Bussey said.
Awakening Production came with a 4-month-old white tiger; two 8-week-old tigers, which went into the play cages with visitors; a 13-week-old tiger; two 3-week-old lions; and a 3-month-old kangaroo, said Vicky Welch, road manager and animal caretaker.
Fourteen people, including stage crew and animal caretakers, travel with the animals, Welch said.