Ringling Bros. Vandalized; PETA's Requests Investigation of Circus After Death of Horse

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ appearance in Grand Rapids, Michigan in early October was marked by the unfortunate death of a horse and vandalism of the arena the circus appeared at as well as of circus property.

A 14-year-old palomino gelding died after it was charged by a stallion while the horses were being unloaded from a train. According to the Grand Rapids Press, an autopsy showed that the palomino suffered a ruptured vena cava blood vessel from the stallion’s charge.

That didn’t stop People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals from asking Kent County Animal Control to investigate the death and the circus further for possible animal welfare violations. The agency declined to pursue such an investigation. Sarah Houwerzyl, kennel supervisor for the Kent County Health Department animal shelter, told the Grand Rapid Press,

We can do one [an investigation] if we feel it’s necessary, but I don’t see any reason for it in this situation. It seems to be a very unusual thing and, by and large, circuses take good care of their animals because they know they’re intensely scrutinized and they know the stakes in it.

The Grand Rapids Press noted that Houwerzyl did perform a routine inspection of the animals and found no problems.

After the circus finished its run, Grand Rapids Police officials called in the FBI to investigate acts of vandalism directed at the circus and the Van Andel Arena where the circus performed. According to the Grand Rapids Press, a glass door and two parking booths at the arena were damaged and graffiti was painted on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The Michigan Independent Media Center site contained a message purportedly from those who committed the vandalism which read,

Insane Asylum
Animals in their Cages
Sleep, Eat, Pace, Eat, Sleep

For a real circus
you look at the audience
Insane Asylum”

In Grand Rapids, MI Saturday October 2nd, a group of concerned humanimals acted instinctively, but not without premeditation, to expose the oppression of once wild beings who are now caged, starved, taunted, rode, beaten and otherwise forced into obedience by the slaveholders that are the circus and its trainers.

The tired old tactics of humanitarian pacifism has lost its bite, that is why we chose property destruction, because it hurts. You can’t argue naturalness, respect and compassion to those whose heart is a wallet and the depth of their conscience is synonymous with the depth of their bank accounts. Bite deep, lock your jaw and they might feel entrapped.

We backed up toilets with sponge, superglued locks, etched circus truck windows, and smashed windows in Van Andel, and painted circus traincars. All agents in animal imprisonment and torture are appropriate targets and Van Andel is no exception. Maybe they will think twice before hosting a violent circus of slaves.


GRPD and FBI investigating circus vandalism case. Wood TV 8, October 2004.

Animal control officials see no abuse in circus horse’s death. Nate Reens and Sue Merrell, The Grand Rapids Press, October 2, 2004.

Boston Herald Outlines Feld's Donations to Anti-Circus Ban Legislators

The Boston Herald reported in October that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ Kenneth Feld paid Massachusetts lobbyist Robert Rodophele almost $150,000 since 2001 to lobby against bills that might impact or ban circus performances in that state.

The Herald notes that State Sen. Robert Hedlund introduced a bill this year that would have banned circus animals in the state, but that the bill was killed by the state House’s Criminal Justice Committee. Rodophele made contributions of at least $100 to seven Democrats who sit on the committee, including the maximum $200 donation to committee chair Sen. Thomas McGee and committee member Sen. Michael Morrissey. Feld himself donated an additional $250 to McGee.

The Herald reports that Feld’s wealth is estimated at upwards of $775 million.


Circus chief gave $$ to lawmakers for letting show go on. Dave Wedge, Boston Herald, October 8, 2004.

PETA's Semi-Nude Circus Protests

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals apparently has yet another semi-nude woman stunt to protest circuses. KAIT in Arkansas reports that,

Wendy Girard, of California, lay on the ground scantily clad with shackles and painted on bruises in PETA’s protests of the upcoming Ringling Brothers Circus in Jonesboro.

PETA’s Brandy Valladolid said of the group’s tactics,

People may certainly disagree with our tactics but I think they can still walk away with information that allows them to walk away with compassionate choices that helps the lives of animals.

I suspect, though, that most circus goers probably walk away thinking what an unidentified Jonesboro resident is quoted as saying in the KAIT story, “I think it’s kinda stupid myself.”


Demonstrators protest upcoming circus. KAIT, August 24, 2004.

Denver City Council Hears Debate Over Ballot Initiative to Ban Circus Animals

At its January 12 meeting the Denver City Council heard speakers on both sides of a ballot initiative aimed at banning circus animals within city limits. That initiative will be put before voters in August.

The initiative is the brain child of 15-year-old Heather Herman, who formed a group called Youth Opposed to Animal Acts to ban circus animals from the city. Herman told TheDenverChannel.Com,

I’ve always cared about animals and just thought of them traveling in smaller cages and I just always thought that was wrong.

Denver is a bit famous (or infamous depending on our point of view) for its ballot initiatives. Denver voters recently voted down, for example, a ballot initiative that would have required the city council to reduce the level of stress in the city. Although Denver has a population topping half a million, only 6,000 signatures are required to put an initiative before voters.

Herman was aided in gathering the signatures by animal rights activist Tamara Lackey and her group, Political Voice for Animals. Lackey told the Rocky Mountain News,

I was completely impressed with her [Herman] — just how totally unselfish she is, and caring, and that she would give so much of her time at the age of 13 and 14 to work for animals. I just find her extremely impressive. She really is the force behind all this. . . . I was not something we would have ever pursued on our own. She was definitely the impetus for us.

Ringling Bros. is the circus that would be impacted the most by the ban, and it is actively campaigning against the proposed ban. Ringling Brothers’ Cassie Folk told TheDenverChannel.Com,

This proposed ban is a solution in search of a problem as the vast majority of circus animals are well cared for and pose no danger. Enacting the ordinance would deny the people of Denver the opportunity to choose what type of entertainment they will and will not attend. Attending the circus, or the rodeo or stock show, like the choice of what kind of food to eat or clothes to wear, is a personal choice, and not one that should be determined by city ordinances.

Ringling Bros., along other circuses and zoos, is subject to stringent animal welfare regulations under the Animal Welfare Act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts regular unannounced inspections of our animals and the animal compound, and in the 30 years under current ownership, Ringling Bros. has never been found in violation for abuse, neglect or mistreatment of our animals. In fact, in all aspects of animal care and safety, Ringling Bros. meets or exceeds all federal animal welfare standards. In addition, Ringling Bros. must and does comply with numerous state and local animal welfare regulations.

The Rocky Mountain News cited the California animal abuse prosecution of Ringling Bros. Mark Olivier Gebel as an example of how activists put forth animal abuse claims against circuses that appear strong but fall apart on closer examination. As the Rocky Mountain News put it,

Complaints were brought by an officer with the Santa Clara County Humane Society, which has police powers, and a San Jose policewoman, but during the trial the two failed to convince the jury they had actually seen any abuse. The prosecution’s case was so weak that Gebel’s lawyers didn’t even offer a defense, and the jury voted unanimously to acquit him. Gebel’s victory never got the same attention the accusations did . . .

Those opposed to the initiative also point out that the circus brings as much as $8 million a year to Denver — more than 250,000 people have seen Ringling Bros. in Denver over the past couple years — and if the initiative passes both Ringling Bros. and that $8 million will simply relocate to a nearby location.

Beyond whether or not circuses are cruel, there is a very curious provision to the Youth Opposed to Animal Acts proposed ban on performing animals — it includes a number of exemptions to protect a number of other Denver-area animal acts. Here’s the section of the initiative that explicitly bans animal acts, followed immediately by a whole host of exemptions,

It shall be unlawful for any person to put on or sponsor a wild or exotic animal display on any public or private land within the City and County of Denver. This prohibition, however, shall not apply to the Denver Zoological Gardens (The Denver Zoo), The Denver Downtown Aquarium (Ocean Journey) subject to accreditation as set forth below, The National Western Stock Show, or any entity accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the Association of Sanctuaries or the American Sanctuary Association, or their successors.

The National Western Stock Show is a rodeo. Ah yes, yet another set of activists with the courage of their convictions.

The full text of the ballot initiative can be read here.


Denver Initiative To Ban Circus Up For Debate. TheDenverChannel.Com, January 12, 2004.

Circus tries to tame fight over exotic animals. Mark Couch, Denver Post, January 2004.

Teen tosses animal-abuse claim into wrong ring. Bill Johnson, Rocky Mountain News, January 14, 2004.

Don’t ban circuses from Denver; Allegations of abuse turn out to be flimsy. Rocky Mountain News, January 14, 2004.

Judge Seals File in PETA's Lawsuit vs. Ringling Brothers

An odd item appeared recently in the Washington Post — the judge hearing a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus has ordered the lawsuit file to be sealed and ordered PETA to remove a copy of the file from its web site.

This is odd because neither PETA nor Ringling Brothers requested that the case file be sealed. According to The Washington Post, in Virginia case are generally only sealed after one party or the other convinces a judge that there is a compelling reason to do so.

The lawsuit stems from claims that Kenneth Feld, president of Feld Entertainment which owns Ringling Brothers, conspired to infiltrate and disrupt PETA. Aside from everything else, you have to love the irony of PETA suing Ringling because Ringling allegedly sent someone in undercover to infiltrate PETA. Gee, I wonder where they got that idea.

Feld and associate Richard Froemming, who is also named in the lawsuit, filed a motion last year asking that allegations that Feld and Froemming engaged in theft and lies about PETA be stricken from the lawsuit. The judge rejected that motion, but ruled that since allegations were being made about individuals not formally named in the lawsuit, that the court had a

. . . compelling interest to ensure that nonparties, who really have no standing to protect themselves in the context of this litigation, receive that kind of attention from the court, and I find that sealing the court’s file is the least burdensome and most narrowly tailored way to do that.

PETA’s attorney Philip Hirschkop has filed an appeal with the Virginia State Supreme Court seeking to overturn the sealing of the case file, telling The Washington Post, “What the judge did is outrageous — there’s no basis for it.”


Fairfax Judge Seals File in PETA, Circus Suit. Tom Jackman, Washington Post, March 13, 2003.

PETA Bails Out Protestor After All

After People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent protestor Rachelle Thorne dressed as the devil (how apropos) to dance on the grave of Gunther Gebel-Williams, PETA spokeswoman Brandi Valladolid told local news media that PETA has a policy of not bailing out such protestors when they are arrested.

How odd, then, that Florida media reported today that Rachelle Thorne was released from jail on July 20 after a PETA staff member posted her $1,000 bail.