As circus folds, Milford activist happy for elephants

Lorrie Davies of Milford, who led efforts to ban circus-animal shows in Milford, is celebrating the news that Barnum & Bailey is bringing its circus to a close.

On Jan. 14, Feld Entertainment Inc., parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced that the 146-year-old circus would hold its final performances later this year. Its two circus units are scheduled to end their tours with their final shows at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., on May 7, and at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21, according to the Ringling Bros. website.

The decision was made as a result of “high costs coupled with a decline in ticket sales,” making the circus an unsustainable business for the company, according to the company website. Following the transition of the elephants off the circus, the website stated, the company saw a decline in ticket sales greater than could have been anticipated.

“Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was the original property on which we built Feld Entertainment into a global producer of live entertainment over the past 50 years,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “We are grateful to the hundreds of millions of fans who have experienced Ringling Bros. over the years. Between now and May, we will give them one last chance to experience the joy and wonder of Ringling Bros.”

In Milford, Davies led protests several years ago and worked to pass an ordinance that would prevent elephants from being used in entertainment acts here. An ordinance was passed in 2014 at her urging, and with the support of other animal rights activists, but it wasn’t as strong as they had hoped. While the ordinance initially sought to ban all traveling shows or circuses that included wild or exotic animals, the aldermen adopted an ordinance that would ban wild or exotic animal shows that had not received the proper permission from the city’s Planning and Zoning Department, and that did not have the proper USDA license in the name of the person applying for the permit.

There was some question initially as to whether the ordinance would affect Cole Brothers Circus, the shows that Davies initially targeted because they brought their shows here to the Westfield mall. But since the ordinance was passed, Cole Brothers has not returned.

According to Wikipedia, “As of 2014, Cole Bros. Circus was one of the few traditional circuses in the United States that remains under the Big Top tent. As of 2016 the show was essentially defunct, in large part due to being targeted by animal rights protests.”

Davies said she is happy for the Barnum & Bailey circus animals.

“The retired elephants will live on a 200-acre sanctuary in Florida, no more chains around their ankles,” she wrote in an email. “All the other animals will find similar homes and finally be able to live a more normal life even though they’re not in the wild where they belong.”

Not everyone was as thrilled with the news as Davies. Since the announcement, there has been commentary from people who say they will miss the circus, including an associate of Davies who responded to her email blast about the circus ending.

Calling the circus an “American tradition that thousands of people enjoyed and had fond memories of,” the email responder “Ron” wrote, “Also, a lot of people (families) will be losing their jobs. What does a trapeze artist do? There’s not a lot of opportunities.

“I admire you standing up for something you believe in and getting better treatment for the animals IS a victory, but this isn’t a football game,” Ron wrote. “ Another part of the America I grew up with has died.”

Davies sent him a link to animal-free circuses, and wrote that she, too, once liked circuses.

“Unfortunately the videos I’ve seen of elephants, tigers, lions and other circus animals being abused makes me literally sick,” she wrote. “Go to a site to see how a baby elephant is captured in the wild, hear it scream, see its four legs tied, etc.”

Circus representatives who spoke out over the years as Milford was wrestling with an ordinance to ban the animal shows have disagreed. Renee Storey, Cole Brothers’ vice president of administration at the time, said 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 didn’t travel with the circus, the circus used veterinarians along the way to make sure the animals received regular examinations and inoculations, she said.

Gary Payne, president of the Circus Fans Association of America, spoke passionately at a city meeting as the ordinance was being debated. He called accusations about abuse outrageous and untrue.