The city of Delaware will have a public hearing Monday about the first updates to the circus permit process for the first time in more than 40 years.
Two versions of the proposed legislation could be presented to council at the hearing with regards to the treatment of animals, said City Attorney Darren Shulman. One version would allow council to ban a circus if the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a citation or violation within a yet-to-be-determined time frame. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) handles the inspections of circus animals.
But the other version would ban the circus from bringing non-domesticated animals to perform. If council goes that route, Delaware would be the first Ohio community to have such a ban.
Circus Pages International has started the permit process to tentatively perform at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on March 24. Council canceled the troupe’s 2016 performance because it did not apply for a permit in time. Some residents protested the circus coming to town because of alleged animal mistreatment.
The Gazette has reviewed APHIS’ inspection reports of Circus Pages going back to 2014 with no citations or non-compliant items found. But one report taken on Oct. 26, 2016, did mention “this was a focused inspection of the tiger incident at the Pensacola Interstate Fair in Pensacola, FL.”
A circus audience member shot video of a 2-year-old Bengal tiger incident at the fair on Oct. 25, 2016, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
The 2-year-old Bengal tiger, named Gandhi, clawed at the legs of a trainer after he knocked her down during a private show in front of 25 children and eight adults, the Journal reported. The video shows the trainer responds by hitting the Tiger with a stick until her fiance rushes in and whips the tiger with a stick in the caged ring.
The show was canceled for the remainder of the fair but APHIS’ focused inspection of the tigers indicated that no non-compliant items were found.
“This is really baffling,” said Rachel Matthews, a PETA Foundation associate director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement.
She cited that federal laws and regulations prohibits physical harm in the handling of an animal. But she said the Animal Welfare Act has the bare minimum standards and are not sufficient for local governments to base their decisions to grant circuses permission to perform.
“I would hope for the city of Delaware goes for a full ban on animals in the circus,” Matthews said. “… The circus’ true stars are the human performers and the show will always go on without animals.”
The Gazette had filed a records request with APHIS for any complaint records related to the tiger incident.
But Yolanda Earhart, the bookkeeper for Circus Pages, said the troupe that plans to perform in Delaware is different from the one that performed in Pensacola.
“We are not the same organization that owns the tiger act” referred to in the video, she said in an email.
She said her troupe’s animal trainer, Jorge Pages, is the father of the trainer from the video.
“After the incident she returned to her father’s home and family environment for the support that only a family can give,” Earhart said. “Our family name has been prominent in many Circus arenas, and we have branched out from four generations of Circus preformers (sic) mastering everything from the flying trapeze (our families original claim to circus fame) to animal training to motorcycle stunt riding. All of which use our family name along with our family winter quarters as a place to rest and maintain their particular talents.
“Although we are a family, our businesses operate independently and I would not be able to offer you any insite (sic) to the Pages Tigers incident.”
Some residents plan to attend the hearing to support a complete ban on circuses that use animals. Some said they will wear black to show their solidarity and meet outside of City Hall 20 minutes before council’s meeting which starts at 7 p.m. in its chambers.
Shelly Emans, who protested the circus’ performance last year, will be among them.
“We are a group of concerned citizens who feel the use of wild animals in circuses is a cruel and outdated practice,” she said.
Emans said in 2015 that she “personally witnessed” Circus Pages handlers beating a mini-horse prior to the show and their dogs were cramped in cages all day with no food and no water.
“The USDA system is hugely flawed,” she said. “We have personally put in calls to the USDA when circuses have arrived in Delaware. The inspectors laughed us off because their case load was so heavy. I have let the City Attorney know that this is problematic. If they are relying on the inspections — or citations/violations — to determine whether or not a circus is okay to perform in Delaware, they may never have what they need.”
Emans said circuses must change with the times and would be the first in line to buy a ticket for human-only performances.
On the other hand, pending its Delaware performance, Earhart said she can only reaffirm to council that Circus Pages follows “all federal licensing and inspection requirements, and when aware, local requirements also.”
“Over the six years that we performed at the beautiful fairgrounds we developed a great working relationship with the staff and had no issues or concerns with neglect or mistreatment of our many animals,” she said. “While we appreciate the dedication of those who wish to protect animals from neglect and abuse, we wish to stress that our animals are our family and they are treated with the utmost respect. Our animal trainer, the world renowned Jorge Pages, has sacrificed his personal life to ensure the safety and comfort of our animal family for over 25 years.
“We are proud to be able to provide wholesome family entertainment and education for a price that’s cheaper than a trip to the zoo or a night at the movies today; and very much hope we can continue to do so in Delaware.”
Additionally, the proposed legislation would require circuses to obtain $1 million in public liability insurance, up from $100,000, and $1 million in property damage insurance, up from $50,000, ahead of a performance.
The public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in council chambers.
Brandon Klein can be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.