published in THE JOURNAL NEWS on feb.10, 2002:
Journal-News (Westchester County, NY)
Journal News, The (Westchester County, NY)
The Journal News
February 10, 2002
Author: Robert Marchant; Staff
The big top may be coming down in Greenburgh.
Bowing to the animal rights movement, the Town Board is
preparing to ban traveling circuses and rodeos from municipal property,
ending a five-year run of performances by elephants and big cats at a town
park in Hartsdale.
Joining a growing national debate on the issue of
animals rights, Greenburgh would become the first town
in Westchester County to legally prohibit the display of large animals in
captivity for amusement purposes. The ban would not apply to school or
"It's a humanitarian issue,'' Town Supervisor Paul
Under a deal formulated at Town Hall, trustees would
allow one final circus show from May 30 to June 2 to benefit the Dads' Club,
a volunteer group that promotes sports programs ! for children. After that,
there would be no more traveling circuses allowed at Webb Field on Central
The Dads' Club has sponsored the circus at the park
most recently under a contract with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, one
of the largest and oldest performing troupes in the country.
An organizer with the Dads' Club, Chuck Bronz, said the
group was disappointed with the town's decision.
"We don't agree with it, but we accept it,'' he said.
Feiner said he was persuaded by a local animal-rights
coalition to ban circuses and rodeos after a debate arose over the issue
last year, when the circus came to town.
"A lot of people feel that, although circuses can be
fun for children, there's a potential danger for the animals,'' Feiner said,
"Some animals have died, and some animals are beaten and chained. There's
also a concern for public safety.''
Though the Greenburgh law would set a precedent in
Westchester, other ! municipalities around the country - such as Stamford,
Conn., Hollywood , Fla., Southampton, N.Y., and Quincy, Mass. - have
prohibited big-animal shows. (Ironically, the legislation would be enacted
in a region often credited as the birthplace of the modern American circus.
Northern Westchester and Putnam County were the home of the first traveling
animal acts in the early 19th century.)
The passage of circus-prohibition laws has often
followed rancorous debate. Animal-rights advocates portray acts with
elephants and tigers as a barbaric throwback to a time when animals were
tortured for fun. Defenders maintain it is a humane and educational form of
entertainment with deep roots in American culture, one that should not be
criminalized by a small group of activists.
The debate was brought to new heights recently when a
criminal charge was filed against Mark Gebel, a circus trainer, for his
handling of an elephant in San Jose, Calif. A jury acquitted him of the
charge in December.
Greenburgh is modeling its law after one en! acted by
the city of Pasadena, Calif. The local version is expected to be adopted,
following a public hearing which has not been scheduled yet, in about a
month. Feiner, a vegetarian, said he felt "strongly'' about the issue of
animal rights and noted that other Town Board members had reached a similar
consensus on the subject.
Feiner, a two-time congressional candidate, has aimed
to make Greenburgh a leader on social issues before.
The town was the second in Westchester to offer health benefits to municipal
employees with same-sex partners. He also created a telephone call-in
segment during Town Board meetings, and a less-than-successful dating
program for Greenburgh singles.
Bronz said The Dads' Club would find an alternative to
the annual circus in Greenburgh, or find another location outside the town
for the event. He said he did not believe animals were mistreated at the
"We've researched this, and we felt they did a very
good job protecting their animals,'' he said.
But Yonkers animal-rights activist Kiley Blackman, who
lobbied the Greenburgh Town Board on the subject, said
that circus acts involving big animals were inherently cruel and that local
legislation was an important way to deter animal abuse.
"The bottom line, whether you think training is humane
or not, is that these animals travel from town to town in chains and
boxcars,'' she said. "They're not our slaves. They're not our property.''
Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. has drawn the ire of
animal-rights activists around the country. The groups have pointed to an
investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the company's
animal-welfare policies, that has so far resulted in a warning letter and a
suspended fine. Opponents also cite several instances in which the company's
elephants went on a rampage.
But the circus says its animals are cared for with the
highest standards and calls its opponents "fringe groups'' that are out to
manipulate public opinion and legislation through distortion.
"There's absolutely no mistreatment to animals in our
circus. We're inspected, we're monitored, and we're open so people can come
and see what we do with the animals anytime," said Renee Storey, spokeswoman
for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus in DeLand, Fla.
Reach Robert Marchant at
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