In a preview to a battle that
is likely to get far more intense through the rest of this decade, a ban
on circus animals on city property barely failed to pass the Seattle City
Council. The proposed ordinance failed on a 5-4 vote after heavy lobbying
by animal rights activists and circus officials.
Although there are a few places
around the country that already have local bans on circuses, Seattle would
have been the first major city in the United States to pass such a ban.
Those who support the ban argued
that keeping animals in circuses is inherently cruel. As Diane Venberg,
an organizer for the Progressive Animal Welfare Society put the animal
rights case, “Bottom line, there’s no way to provide a natural habitat
for animals in a circus.”
Anti-circus activist Claudine
Erlandson put a melodramatic touch on after the vote saying, “All Seattle
is crying. That’s not rain outside it’s tears.” But Erlandson and the
others do not intend to give up.
“We’re going to re-group and
perhaps put the measure on the general election ballot,” said activist
Whether or not PAWS or any
of the other anti-circus activists have the financial wherewithal to do
so is debatable. Both sides of the issue spent thousands of dollars on
ads before the vote and at least one activist expressed skepticism about
whether it was realistic to push for a ballot initiative so soon.
Especially considering that
Ringling Bros. and other circuses targeted by the activists seem prepared
to fight back.
Without a ballot issue, though,
it’s hard to tell how much legs the circus ban movement will have in the
United States. Getting a few animal rights-oriented individuals on elected
to the City Council is one thing, especially given typically low voter
turnouts in local elections in the United States, while getting voters
to agree with the animal rights position on a ballot initiative is another
thing, as activists have found in recent years with failed iniativies
such as their effort to require warning tags on fur in Beverly Hills.
Personally, I doubt there is
any great desire among the electorate to ban circus animals. As Ringling
Bros. spokeswoman Joan Glavin underscored, the reason Ringling Bros. is
successful is precisely because so many people want to see exotic animal
“As long as they [circus patrons]
continue to come by the millions, we will have animals. And we will continue
to protect the rights of people to see them.”
Animal advocates regroup after Seattle defeats circus animal ban. The
Associated Press, February 15, 2000.
Seattle City Council defeats exotic-animal ban; activists to regroup.
John Zebrowski, Seattle Times, Feb. 15, 2000.