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Pittsburgh Considers Banning Wild-Animal Acts

Almost 60 municipalities have prohibited wild animal acts or training animals with bullhooks. (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)
Almost 60 municipalities have prohibited wild animal acts or training animals with bullhooks. (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)
May 27, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- Clowns and animal-rights advocates crowded Pittsburgh's City Council chambers this week, speaking their minds about a proposed ban on wild-animal acts in the city. The ordinance, based on a similar law in San Francisco, would prohibit performances involving wild or exotic animals.

Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said many people have fond memories of going to the circus as children to see lions, monkeys and elephants perform.

"But we now have a lot more information," she said, "We're much wiser and better informed that the animals being used are being denied everything that's natural and important to them."

So far, no vote on the proposed ordinance has been scheduled. Opponents of the ban have emphasized the bonds between trainers and their animals, as well as the educational value of the performances. However, Tullo pointed out that, for wild animals, even traveling can be stressful and abusive.

"Animals are caged and chained in boxcars and trailers, and they're really forced to endure months of grueling travel," she said, "and, of course, they're bullied to perform these tricks."

She said some trainers have been injured or killed by their animals, and that if an enraged animal breaks free, it can pose a very real threat to the public. A number of traveling circuses still feature wild-animal acts, but Tullo noted that public attitudes are changing and a growing number of communities are considering ending them.

"There are almost 60 U.S. municipalities that have passed legislation prohibiting either the use of bullhooks to train the animals or banned wild animals altogether," she said.

Similar statewide laws have been introduced in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and California.

The proposed ordinance is online at pittsburgh.legistar.com.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA