Brockville woman pushing for ban on circus animal acts
By RONALD ZAJAC
A Brockville woman and an animal rights group she belongs to are calling on the city to ban wild animal acts such as the Shrine Circus, calling them an inhumane way to treat animals.
"I have a sympathy, I guess, for animals and a compassion for them," Priscilla Pickett said Wednesday. "I feel they’re helpless and they can’t speak for themselves."
Pickett, 57, a retired teacher, spoke earlier this week to city council’s finance and administration committee along with Zoocheck Canada Inc. executive director Rob Laidlaw and Julie Woodyer, the group’s campaigns director.
Pickett is also a member of Zoocheck, a national non-profit group dedicated to the welfare of wild animals.
The group wants the city to amend its animal control bylaw by adding language that would not only bar people from owning wild animals as pets, but also from bringing them in temporarily – a clause that would effectively outlaw such acts as the Shrine Circus.
Committee members on Tuesday referred the matter back to city staff for a report, but argued such restrictions would best be done at the provincial level.
The current city bylaw prohibits the keeping of wild animals within city limits unless they have been "domesticated" and are kept in a facility that has been inspected by an animal control officer, said city clerk Sandra Seale.
The fine for a violation is less than $100, she said, adding violators are then given a time period to get rid of the animals.
Even if the wording of the bylaw were changed, groups such as the Shriners would be entitled to ask city council for a special, date-specific exemption, said Seale.
The bylaw amendment would not affect such events as the Thousand Islands Kennel and Obedience Club (TIKO) annual dog show, since dogs and cats are considered domestic animals, she said.
Pickett, who belongs to other animal rights groups, says travelling shows using wild animals take them out of their complex social groups in the wild and put them in cages.
"I just think the animals are not for our entertainment," said Pickett. "They have a right to live in their own way."
She reiterated Laidlaw’s comments to the committee, noting wild animals need stimulation, something they are deprived of in captivity.
"They need more than food or water to survive," said Pickett.
Like her fellow Zoocheck members, Pickett would like to see groups like the Shriners employ only circuses that don’t use wild animal acts.
Zoocheck has about 10,000 members across Canada, said Woodyer.
The bylaw change the group wants is not aimed at one circus in particular, she said, noting it would also target such things as events involving tigers in shopping malls.
Woodyer reiterated Laidlaw’s claim that circuses are inherently cruel to wild animals.
"It’s just not possible to meet their behavioural and biological needs in a travelling show."
Not only are confinement and constant travel problems, but in many cases, animals are abused in the training process, said Woodyer.
On Tuesday, Laidlaw told the committee that confinement of wild animals leads to behavioural changes that leave the animals – and the people around them – vulnerable to "triggers" that can cause attacks.
"It creates a situation where, inevitably, something’s going to happen," he said, adding it’s not enough to argue such tragedies have never happened in Brockville.
"You should more reasonably ask: ‘Is it a possibility?’" he said.
Many circuses do not use any animals, or only domesticated creatures such as dogs and horses, which have been bred over thousands of generations to interact with humans and are thus not deprived of their natural existence, Woodyer said Wednesday.
Many municipalities in British Columbia ban wild animal shows, as well as others on the east coast, said Woodyer, but there are fewer in Ontario.
She shares city council’s concern that entrusting the matter to a municipal bylaw is another form of provincial "downloading," but said such a move is not on the provincial government’s radar screen.
"In the meantime, it’s up to the municipalities to protect their citizens," said Woodyer.
Larry Solheim, general manager of Webb City, Missouri-based Tarzan Zerbini Circus, which is again scheduled to provide the entertainment for the Shrine Circus in Brockville this summer, denied shows such as his are inherently inhumane.
Although animals in travelling shows are "still wild animals with instincts," top breeding veterinarians in the United States prefer to deal with circus animals because they are healthier and more intellectually developed because of the interaction they get, said Solheim.
"There’s no evidence to show it’s not a humane environment."
Animal rights activists are "trying to impose human emotions on these animals," said Solheim, adding their arguments are based on opinion, not fact.
Municipalities in fact have no jurisdiction to bar wild animal shows, said Solheim, adding this has been established in case law. And there are laws in place at senior levels of government, both in Canada and the United States, to ensure show animals are treated properly.
Had there been problems with such shows, he said, these senior levels would have barred them already.
"You have to understand there’s higher levels than the city of Brockville," said Solheim.
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