Elephants still welcome in Milford

Elephants and other circus animals were at the center of a debate in Milford.

Elephants and other circus animals were at the center of a debate in Milford.

Presented with an ordinance Monday night that would have shut down circuses and other animal events in Milford, the Board of Aldermen modified the legislation to ban only animal handlers and shows that are not properly licensed.

The city was presented with an ordinance that would have banned traveling shows or circuses that include wild or exotic animals, such as monkeys, chimpanzees, bears, and elephants.

Milford resident Lorrie Davies has been pushing for this kind of legislation, primarily in response to circuses held at the Westfield mall. Democratic Alderman Frank Smith heeded her pleas, and has been researching the matter for more than a year. An ordinance he worked on made its way to the Monday night Board of Aldermen’s meeting.

Davies, a passionate animal rights activist, believes the circus can be just as entertaining minus its animal acts.

She, as well as the proposed ordinance, noted Monday night that “training techniques, devices or agents used to make the animals perform are many times abusive, cruel and/or stressful.”

Stressed animals pose a danger to themselves and the people in attendance, the ordinance states.

Circus representatives disagree. Renee Storey, Cole Brothers’ vice president of administration, has said in the past that circus people treat animals well because they love them and work closely with them. The USDA requires that a veterinarian supervisor be in place to oversee a health program for the animals. And while the vet doesn’t travel with the circus, the circus uses veterinarians along the way to make sure the animals receive regular examinations and inoculations, she said.

“By touring with animals, we raise consciousness about endangered species,” Storey said. “We make people care about the elephants and the tigers. There’s nothing like seeing animals up close.”

Storey wasn’t at Monday’s meeting, but several like-minded people were.

Gary Payne, president of the Circus Fans Association of America, spoke passionately about what he sees as rhetoric from animal rights groups in the face of humane treatment of animals at circuses and other events.

“The proposed ordinance would do little more than bring these animals closer to extinction,” Payne argued. “As written, it would end an American institution.

“The accusations are outrageous, and they are simply not true,” he said, adding that circus animals are loved and well cared for.

The Commerfords, of R.W. Commerford in Goshen, own animals and operate a traveling zoo. They have been targeted by groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), accused of misusing animals, but they attended Monday’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting to argue that people who work with animals do so because the animals are part of their lives.

When traveling with the animals, “I know when the elephant is out of hay or wants a drink of water,” Tim Commerford said. “It’s not the dollar; this is what we do.”

Commerford said there is a lot of misconception about the treatment of animals. For example, he said, elephants often have dark bags under their eyes not because they are tired but because their handlers put Vaseline on them to keep the area from drying out.

He said the USDA is a strict regulating agency that oversees the treatment of show animals.

Resident George Beecher said he loves animals and has spent a lifetime visiting zoos, circuses and animal shows.

“The thought of generations to come not having this privilege makes me very, very sad,” he said.

While the ordinance initially sought to ban all traveling shows or circuses that include wild or exotic animals in Milford, the aldermen voted to modify that. The ordinance bans wild or exotic animal shows that have not received the proper permission from the city’s Planning and Zoning Department to be in Milford, and that do not have the proper USDA license in the name of the person applying for the permit.

The ordinance reads as follows:

“It shall be unlawful for any persons, company or organization to conduct, sponsor, or operate a traveling show or circus that includes wild or exotic animals on any public or private land within the City of Milford without presentation to the Planning & Zoning Office of a current and valid USDA (APHIS ‘Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’), license thereby certifying compliance with the ‘Animal Welfare Act’ (AWA), no sooner than thirty (30) days prior to exhibition. Such license must be in the name of the actual applicant requesting all other zoning and health inspection permits from the city.

“The provisions of this section shall not apply to nonprofit aquaria or zoos, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), bringing animals into schools, libraries, or other educational institutions for the purpose of educational demonstrations, or to any licensed veterinarian for the purpose of treatment and care of such animal.”

Alderman Smith said the ordinance simply means exhibitors “have to show their bona fides” and puts the responsibility on the USDA.

Davies said she was pleased the ordinance was approved, even though it wasn’t as strong as she’d have liked.

“I think it’s a start,” she said.

According to the website Onegreenplanet.org, the new ordinance would impact the Cole Brothers Circus, which has been bringing its show to the Westfield mall once a year.

“Due to the nature of the Cole Brothers Circus, where they lease USDA certified animals from others, the new ordinance will prevent their return without proper licenses and only for animals they are actual guardians of,” the website states.

Cole Brothers had not been reached for additional comment before press time.

On its website, Onegreenplanet.org said the city “came just short of passing a historic ordinance to prohibit circuses that include wild or exotic animals from private and public lands in the city.”

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  • Corrine

    Don’t be fooled!!! These precious animals don’t deserve to be trucked around for peoples pleasure. They are often beaten, abused and mistreated. Do you really think an elephant is on this earth for entertaining? How do you think they are trained to do this??? They are beaten into doing this!!! Elephants are smart animals and never forget! PLEASE Boycott this type of so called entertainment! Do the right thing!!!

  • BigAl

    It’s good to see commonsense prevail. I love the circus! The local law is unnecessary since federal law already requires a USDA exhibitors license.

    Don’t be fooled by the animal extremist activists. They will never be satisfied until all animal use is stopped.

    • Cj

      Loop holes in the Animal Welfare Act allow circuses who have been fined numerous times to continue to operate. Statement posted by the USDA. “…While the Animal Welfare Act provides many important protections to exhibited animals used for regulated purposes, there are limitations to our regulatory authority…we do not have the authority to issue an overall ban on the use of animals in exhibition….If an investigation results in a determination that… violations occurred, we pursue appropriate enforcement action. In cases of serious or repeat violations, we will seek penalties such as civil penalties….” asktheexpert.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5208/kw/circus (search elephants). The circus writes these fines off as the cost of doing business and on to the next show. Wild circus animals need all the protection they can get from local laws.

      • BigAl

        #1these aren’t “loop holes” it is the law. every business that gets a government inspection( OSHA, Health dept…) gets cited and sometimes fined this doesn’t make the business bad or does it mean they should be put out of business. 99% of the violations are minor even errors in record keeping.

        cj ele if elephants were no longer in the circus would that be the end of the animal rights extremists attacks?

        The real goal of animal extremists is a complete end to all use of animals (I said use not abuse). This includes farming, pets medical research and food.

  • Gary

    In over 40 years direct observation backstage and in training, I have NEVER witnessed a circus animal to be “beaten, abused, or mistreated” as anonymous “Corrine” above alleges. The few circus elephants in America are fine educational ambassadors for their dwindling wild cousins… Don’t be fooled by the propaganda and smear campaigns of the animal rights fund raising scams and the just plain old haters. See you at the circus – the right to decide (To see a circus -or not) belongs to the people. GOOD FOR MILFORD, CT if you make that decision the decision of your townspeople!

  • Cj

    Nine year old Carly Dunn’s well-written essay is titled “Elephants, It’ll Make You Cry.” In it, she expresses her feelings as only a child can – she is honest, heartfelt and passionate. After watching the documentary “An Apology to Elephants” with her Mother, Carly comes to the conclusion: “Never ever go to a circus with animals. Especially elephants.” www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RWmHK2yp6c www.pawsweb.org/documents/CARLY-RAEDUNN.pdf?utm_source=Newsletter+January+2014&utm_campaign=UA-16696807-1&utm_medium=email

  • Gary

    For those who don’t know: “Cj” anonymous (above) is an animal “rights” activist who hangs out on the internet and pushes her videos on people. As if anyone would accept a YouTube video as proof of the crime of animal abuse. Make no mistake – animal abuse is a crime. I’m against abuse. Who isn’t? How many times must the courts rule in FAVOR OF THE CIRCUS before people like Cj will finally learn that they’ve been brainwashed by the very much FOR PROFIT “non-profit” animal rights business? Long live the circus where animals are loved and well cared for! “Cj” – will we EVER know who you are?

    • Cj

      Sadly as long as animals are considered property by our legal system, circuses will be able to have animal cruelty cases dismissed. But the public can end this animal abuse for entertainment without the legal system, just stop buying tickets to the circus. I believe it is cruel and inhumane to deprive wild animals of their normal and natural behaviors and force them to do unnatural tricks for entertainment. A picture speaks a thousand words a video leaves no doubts about the cruelty under the Big Top.
      Cole Bros doesn’t have a USDA -C licenses so they lease the elephants in their show from Carson & Barnes Circus. This is how Carson trains their elephants to perform..www.youtube.com/watch?v=iouGQD6lf6A#
      You can believe your own eyes or take Gary’s word.

  • Gary

    Cj would have you “believe” the videos she regurgitates! These are not acceptable in a court of law, or they would have been used as “proof” of the crime of abuse… Why in the world would any reasonable or logical thinking human being accept a “YouTube” video from an anonymous person calling his/herself “Cj” as gospel. Don’t believe ME or “Cj”. Go the circus and see for yourself!

    Cole Bros. does not have a USDA license. They don’t own, transport, or show the elephants. Their owners do. If Cole Bros. HAD the license and the owners did NOT, “Cj” wouldn’t like that either. The USDA requires that the license (DUH!) be in the name of those that own/transport/handle and show the elephants!

    “Cj” just has a problem with animals. PERIOD. She/he also has a problem with YOU and I making up our own minds. I repeat my challenge to “Cj” to identify her/him self and are you a vegan?

  • Doug

    This is great! So happy to hear that the tradition will continue. The way that elephants are treated in the circus has long been misunderstood and exaggerated. This is a huge win for the tradition of circus!

  • Cj

    You don’t have to pay to get into the circus or even take Gary’s word about the condition of the circus animals. Look for yourself behind the Big Top where the animals are all caged or confined in small areas. Watch the elephants swaying and the tigers pacing in their tiny cages, they are all displaying unnatural behaviors from the stress of constant confinement. It is inhuman to force animals to perform unnatural tricks on cue for our entertainment. www.google.com/search?q=captive+elephants+swaying&tbm=vid&source=lnms&sa=X&ei=7_AhU-LlCufl2AXv3YCoBw&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1280&bih=546&dpr=1.25#q=cole+bros+elephants+swaying&tbm=vid
    Watch Carson & Barnes Circus employee use the tip of his bullhook to hook Viola in the ear canal, hear her scream. If someone hooked you in the ear canal with a fireplace poker and pulled on it you would scream from the pain too. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rx4hC7OOuek

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