Somerville, Massachusetts Passes Exotic Animal Protection Ordinance

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Somerville, Massachusetts Passes Exotic Animal Protection Ordinance

By Sean Patrick Teehan on WickedLocal.com

The law stems from concern over treatment of exotic (sometimes endangered) wild animals in circuses and carnivals. It penalizes violators with graded fines of $100 for a first offense; $200 for a second offense; and $300 for a third and any additional offense.

If you haven’t already spotted lions, tigers and bears in Somerville, you never will.

Proponents for animal rights won a victory last month when the city of Somerville passed an ordinance banning the display of exotic animals in circuses, carnivals or any other public spectacle.

The ordinance, which was signed into law by Mayor Joe Curtatone, disallows displaying any living “nondomesticated animals.” This covers events taking place at public or private properties, the ordinance stated.

The ban doesn’t include domestic animals such as dogs, cats, donkeys or farm animals. However, it prevents competitive racing of domestic species.

The law stems from concern over treatment of exotic (sometimes endangered) wild animals in circuses and carnivals. It penalizes violators with graded fines of $100 for a first offense; $200 for a second offense; and $300 for a third and any additional offense.

“Their needs can’t be met in those kind of situations,” said Linda Huebner, deputy director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Generally, we’re talking about large animals being transported long distances” under intense confinement, she said.

Renee Storey, vice president of administration for Cole Bros. Circus (which last year featured performing elephants, camels, ponies and dogs) vehemently denies the assertion that exotic animals such as elephants and tigers performing in circuses, carnivals and other displays are often mistreated.

“We would totally disagree with that,” Storey said. “Wild animals are licensed, regulated and monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture,” whose regulations are “pretty stringent,” she added.

While Somerville recently passed the measure, similar legislation is in place in Braintree, Provincetown, Quincy and Revere.

Raeleann Smith, circus and government affairs specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said, “We [PETA] hope other municipalities will look at the Somerville ordinance as an example for laws against inhumane treatment,” which she claims includes beatings and confinement of trained animals. Smith added she hopes, despite the relatively small fine incurred by violators, circuses that display exotic animals will “recognize they’re not welcome in Somerville.”

Insisting Cole Bros. treats all animal performers humanely, Storey said she finds the Somerville ban “incredibly prejudicial to people who work in the circus and carnival industries.”

Agreeing with Storey’s point of view, Gary Payne, eastern vice president of Circus Fans Association of America, claimed animal rights activists can pass legislation since “they are able to make a strong point because they only show their side of the story.”

The ordinance, Storey said, has little affect on Cole Bros. Circus because although it runs in Massachusetts, Cole Bros. has never come to Somerville

“I don’t know if circuses have ever appeared in Somerville. Why it was such a pressing issue for the council?”

Although circuses rarely come to Somerville, Jackie Rossetti, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s office described the ban as a show of Somerville’s rejection of practices that could harm animals.

“We’re [Somerville] in line with the MSPCA,” she said. It’s just something we want to make sure doesn’t happen within our borders.”