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Circus cruelty issue may be on ballot

Animal rights activists in Clatsop County may have their wish granted.

Leaders are moving ahead with a proposal to ask voters in May whether they want to ban exotic animals from appearing in circuses that visit the community.

The action was taken at a meeting of the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners Wednesday.

It comes as a result of a lengthy campaign by a local resident and animal supporters who urged the board to halt what they describe as cruel and inhumane treatment of animals in traveling circuses, some of which have appeared at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.

Chairman Dirk Rohne, who serves as the board of commissioners’ liaison to the Clatsop County Fair Board, said he personally believed that the public had the right to decide whether to attend circuses, but added he would support placing the issue on the ballot.

County staff will draft an ordinance. The wording will be based on a draft version presented to the board for review Wednesday. The ordinance, based on a similar law passed by the city of Redmond, Wash., is narrowly worded to specifically prohibit only elephants and other exotic animals as defined in state statute: felines and nonwolf canines except for domestic cats and dogs, bears except for black bears, crocodiles and nonhuman primates.

Rodeos and horse shows, 4-H and FFA exhibits and educational displays would be exempt from the ban. The ordinance would only cover the unincorporated areas of the county, not the cities.

Rita Smith, Janice Robertson and other animal lovers have been campaigning to ban elephants and other exotic animals from being allowed in circuses in the county, especially at the publicly owned Clatsop County Fairgrounds. They point to communities like Redmond and Port Townsend, Wash., that have already taken a solid stance to try to prevent what activists contend is cruelty to animals.

Robertson, who first brought up the issue, told commissioners Wednesday that she would prefer the county adopt the measure without putting it to the voters.

“It’s promising,” said Smith, of Hammond. “It’s not what we were hoping for. We had hoped that they would do the right and courageous thing and pass an ordinance.”

But she said activists are gearing up for a campaign to convince voters to pass the measure.

“This means there is a lot of work ahead of us.”

Marga Stanley of Astoria voiced similar concerns about putting it to voters. “It’s the next best thing – a start, a step in the right direction,” she said.

The action follows efforts by animal lovers to bring public scrutiny to circus training methods.

They point to national publicity over Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and others being accused of using bull hooks – known as ankus – and chains to train elephants to perform tricks. Bull hooks are shaped like a poker with a steel claw and two sharpened tips. Animal trainers call them “guides,” a term that infuriates animal rights activists.

They contend these training methods are in contravention of the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

Groups like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Fund for Animals and the Animal Welfare Institute are among those that have filed lawsuits seeking to bring attention to the controversy.

The animal rights group PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – has a website listing describing “Steps to take when the circus comes to town” which is a blueprint for activists.

In June, commissioners in Fulton County, Ga., voted to ban the use of bull hooks. Governments in New York, Florida, South Carolina and Indiana have also passed similar bans.

Argentina and Austria ban circuses with animals and nations including Australia, Brazil, India and Sweden also ban certain species. In England, members of parliament have been divided over whether to enact bans. The country already has an Animal Welfare Act that covers some issues. However, European Union laws may supersede any domestic legislation.


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