- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

Alexandria's (Va.) soft spot for lions and tigers may prompt the city to tell traveling circuses to keep on traveling.

The City Council is pondering a ban on circuses that feature meat-eating beasts who leap through rings of fire or are forced to perch on stools by the crack of a whip.

The reason? Circuses use cruel methods to train their lions, tigers and elephants, said the council member leading the parade against such shows.

"You always see the lions and elephants perform clever tricks," said council member Redella S. "Del" Pepper, a Democrat who supports an unequivocal ban. "But these animals don't do it naturally, and they don't want to do that willingly. These animals get whacked, browbeaten and their spirits broken."

Circus season begins in March.

Last year, the council kept the Florida-based Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus from appearing in the city.

"I want the circus to come here," said 9-year-old Michael Sheridan of Alexandria. "I want to see the animals. It's fun to watch them."

"It would be great to have the circus come to where I live," added 8-year-old Jason Connaugh of Alexandria.

The day the circus came to town is etched in the minds of millions of adults, including several on the council, who think today's children have a right to witness this slice of Americana.

Council member Lonnie C. Rich, a Democrat, opposes the ban because it denies children just such a lasting memory.

"Yes, there might be disappointed children," Democratic Mayor Kerry J. Donley said. "But we must also consider the issues of public safety and the treatment of animals."

The council will discuss the proposed ban and restrictions at its meeting tomorrow. A public hearing will be held before any final vote is taken.

Mr. Rich said he is not prepared to believe that all circuses mistreat their animals.

"I don't know about the statements that 'There's no way to get these animals to do anything until you beat them.' To me that's a stretch," Mr. Rich said.

"Banning circuses is an extreme measure. I have an obligation to all the little kids in the city. I just don't agree with that, and I don't want Alexandria to be the beginner of a trend in that direction," he said.

Council member David G. Speck, a Democrat, said he is also " … very uncomfortable with a unilateral ban on circuses."

If such a ban is approved, Alexandria would join several other communities nationwide, including Takoma Park, Md., that have similar laws already in place. Those jurisdictions include Corona, Calif.; Hollywood and Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.; Quincy and Revere, Mass.; and Redmond, Wash.

The ban would not apply to circuses that don't have exotic animal acts like the acrobat-based Cirque du Soleil, or other organizations that use clowns or domesticated animals, such as ponies, or pet farms that are popular feature at the city's Fourth of July celebration, Mrs. Pepper said.

"You don't have to beat up ponies to train them," Mrs. Pepper added.

Mr. Donley said it is easier to prohibit the shows than regulate them, an option the council will also consider as part of a more extensive animal-control ordinance.

Officials with Clyde Beatty said circuses are not that difficult to regulate.

"We don't always want to do things that are right, but what are the easiest," said Renee Storey, vice president of administration at Clyde Beatty.

"A lot of municipalities have laws in place that adequately regulate circuses. The council would be advised to look at those regulations and choose what's best for everyone," Ms. Storey said.

She said her circus, which annually performs in Fairfax and Prince William counties, Va., does not mistreat its animals and should be allowed to perform its show in Alexandria. The circus features 12 tigers, four elephants and seven Arabian horses in its shows.

"We feel we do a good job of taking care of our animals, and we spend a lot of time with them," Ms. Storey said.

A compromise law that regulates rather than bans circuses puts the matter into the laps of the city's animal-control officers, who would require shows to have "adequate" levels of care, exercise, shelter, space, water and treatment of their performing animals.

"We may decide on those restrictions. Those options are there," Mr. Donley said, who presently supports a ban.

"All of that is wonderful, but it still doesn't get to the point of the type of training is used to get these animals to perform," Mrs. Pepper argued, clinging to an outright ban as the humane thing to do.

Officials with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are urging the council to vote for a ban.

"It's a sign of the way things are going in the new millennium," said Jennifer O'Connor, a PETA cruelty case worker.

Mary Zoeter, Alexandria resident and president of local animal-protection group Action for Animals Network, said she met with several City Council members to urge them to approve a ban.

"Our group feels that these animals are trained through fear and punishment," Mrs. Zoeter said. "You don't train an elephant with a cookie."

Council members who favor a ban have other concerns. They say the densely populated city has no room for a circus, nor does it have the manpower or equipment to capture a wild animal if one should get loose.

Officials worry the city could risk a lawsuit if a circus elephant escapes. Such was the case in Fishkill, N.Y., in 1993, and in Hanover, Pa., in May 1995.

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