Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Pachyderm Protections

A new city of Pittsburgh law regarding wild or exotic animals has at least one circus threatening to leave town.




photo by chuck beard

 

As 2017 drew to a close, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signed legislation that makes the use of “devices or instruments to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of any wild or exotic animal” illegal in the city. 

Notable opponents of the law included Syria Shrine, which hosts the annual Shrine Circus, and Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The controversy over the legislation became a bit of ... well, a circus.

Clowns appeared at City Council meetings, holding signs saying “Shriners Help Kids” and “Save the Shrine Circus.” Supporters of the law said the goal was never to do away with the circus or the zoo, but to protect animals from the use of instruments such as bullhooks.

Brian Bonsteel, president of Humane Action Pittsburgh, notes that for the zoo, the law would make it challenging to continue to manage its elephants with “free contact,” meaning there’s no barrier between the elephant and its handlers. Bonsteel, Council President Bruce Kraus and other supporters of the law hope the zoo will move toward a “protected contact” model, in which the animal and its handlers never share the same space. The penalty for violating the law is a fine of $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail.

Zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray declined to comment.

Similar legislation has been passed elsewhere. According to Bonsteel, language from Pittsburgh’s ordinance was used in Los Angeles’ 2014 bullhook ban, which wound up being the model for California’s law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016.

Kraus, who proposed the legislation, says the goal is to guide the circus to “perform in more improved and enlightened ways.”

“One of the most difficult things we do in elected office is to shift culture,” he says.

​Bonsteel echoed that sentiment. 

“If they really want a circus to entertain families and make money, I would point to the model of Cirque du Soleil,” the performance-troupe circus that commands high ticket prices despite not involving wild animals.

“So when the Shriners say, ‘Hey, you don’t like kids,’ or ‘You’re ending 68-year tradition,’ you know, 68 years of animal abuse is too many,” says Bonsteel, adding that he supports what the Shriners do as an organization through the Shriners Hospitals for Children. 

Paul Leavy, who volunteers as the circus chairman for the Shriners in Pittsburgh, says that for nearly seven decades, the Shriners have run a “very clean and professional” circus in Pittsburgh, and that the event wouldn’t be successful if they were associated with animal abuse. He says the ticket price for the Shrine Circus, as low as $20, is part of what draws a crowd and makes it a successful fundraiser. 

The fate of the Shrine Circus, which is scheduled for its 69th annual performance at PPG Paints Arena this year, remains unclear. Leavy says the circus would not consider a performance without animals and is looking into facilities in municipalities outside of the city that could accommodate the show.

“Without the Shriners in Pittsburgh, there would be no Shriners Hospital,” he says.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Man Donates a Million to College Founded by His Aunt

Entrepreneur Robert M. “Bob” Brownlee’s contribution will allow Seton Hill University to build a brand new mathematics center and establish a new scholarship.

Annihilation Is Challenging, Otherworldly Science Fiction

Reviews of "Annihilation" and "Mute," plus local movie news and notes.

Penn Cove Eatery and The Warren Open Downtown

The collaboration between Penn Avenue Fish Company and Subversive Cocktails contains a wine shop, grab-and-go sushi, a bar with a late-night menu and more.

Trade Now, Sign Later Approach Could Work Again for Penguins

With the NHL trade deadline looming, the Penguins are increasingly employing more forward-thinking approaches to the acquisition of future stars.

Add Some Culture to Your Life with Swan Lake

If you play your cards right, the beautiful production from Pittsburgh Ballet Theater will dazzle even novices.

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Our Dream Penthouse Used to be a Carpet Warehouse

The building that now houses a $1.05 million dollar penthouse was first used for a much less exciting purpose.

HGTV Renews ‘Restored by the Fords’ Starring Pittsburgh Siblings

The finale showcasing Leanne and Steve Ford airs Tuesday, and the duo already are looking for more local houses to restore for the show’s second season.

Five Fun Facts about Pittsburgh Bridges

With more than 440 bridges in the city to choose from, VisitPITTSBURGH shows off the most interesting bridges within the city in its new Official Visitors Guide.

WQED Event to Celebrate Mister Rogers Forever Stamp

USPS will dedicate a new forever stamp to Fred Rogers and celebrate with a party in March.

Mothers Know Best for This Pittsburgh Couple

For Cady Walter and Jared Henigin, happily ever after may never have happened if their mothers hadn’t acted as matchmakers.

Peters Township Native Wins Silver Medal in Speed Skating

After swine flu kept him from competing in Sochi in 2014, short track speed skater John-Henry Krueger finally won a spot on the podium at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Perspectives: A Better Life

A former Pittsburgh television reporter recounts the lessons taught to him by his grandfather who spent more than four decades as a Pullman Porter.

Pittsburgh MultiStories: Phipps Legacy – The Fulton Building

With its distinctive seven-story archway, the Fulton Building (now the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel) remains a beloved Pittsburgh landmark.

Kick Back and Relax with a Baby Sloth

For $150 you can book an up-close hang out session with Vivien the two-toed sloth.