Eureka Springs City Council votes down proposed circus ordinance

Friday, November 14, 2014

Despite local citizens protesting during Monday night's Eureka Springs City Council meeting and pleading with council members to pass the second reading of a proposed ordinance that would ban circuses that use animals from performing in Eureka Springs, the council voted the measure down.

Alderwoman Mickey Schneider warned her fellow council members that if they moved forward with the ordinance without allowing it to be voted upon by the public, the city risked being sued.

"This issue is definitely a personal rights issue. If you pass the ordinance, the city will get sued," Schneider said at Monday's meeting.

Local animal welfare activists say they are puzzled as to why the council would pass the ordinance on its first reading, then vote it down on the second.

"Animal welfare is such a big issue, especially in the south. Arkansas has yet to even ratify the Equal Rights Amendment from 1972. ... I still can't wrap my head around how the ordinance came to fail," Rachel Brix, a local animal welfare activist, told the Carroll County News.

Brix equated the importance of this ordinance to marriage equality.

"We could have been the first town in this state and this region, and then more would follow, but that's probably where the problem actually lies," Brix told the Carroll County News. "Animals make people too much money in this area of the country and that's partly why the attitudes toward animals are still so primitive. I'm not so naive that I don't see the power play politics and influence involved, but it makes my heart sink because the real losers aren't the community. They can go elsewhere to see a circus with animals. It's the step toward ending animal cruelty that Eureka Springs had the opportunity to take, so the animals lose. We could have been a leader for animals and instead, we sided with politics."

David Orr, a representative for the Outdoor Amusement Business Circus Unit and Circus Fans Association of America Animal Committee, in an Oct. 27 letter to Mayor Morris Pate, strongly encouraged the city to vote down the proposed ordinance on the basis that there is no empirical evidence that proves animals are harmed in circuses.

"We write today in opposition to the proposed ordinance restricting circuses from using live animal acts in Eureka Springs," Orr's letter says. "We are disappointed that the city of Eureka Springs has chosen to accept the ideologically motivated agenda of animal rights activists over the years of knowledge and experience of animal trainers and husbandry experts. No doubt you are inundated with lies, doctored video propaganda, half-truths, and hearsay. 'Proof' is lacking."

But Brix and Trella Laughlin say they were eyewitnesses to the abuse of animals during last week's circus at Lake Leatherwood City Park.

"Every religion talks about love and compassion. I saw these animals abused and hooks were used to control animals. It's unnecessary and cruel," Laughlin said Monday in her plea to the council to pass the proposed ordinance. Brix presented the council with a poster of photos displaying what she said is maltreatment of the animals.

In his letter, Orr continued in his defense of the circus industry and said that he did not understand why in a time of "tight city budgets, City Councils would even consider an item like this."

"We sincerely hope that City Council will not tolerate this bullying any more than you would tolerate bullying in your schools," Orr says in his letter. "We are against abuse of animals and feel that abusers should be punished."

Alderman James DeVito, who joined Alderwoman Joyce Zeller in voting for the proposed ordinance, stressed the importance of animal rights during the meeting.

"It's not really an issue about circuses coming to town. It's about animal rights," DeVito said. "These are wild exotic animals that don't need to be dragged around for the entertainment of people. Circuses are on their way out anyway."

The proposed ordinance failed on a 4-2 vote. Schneider voted no, along with aldermen Terry McClung, David Mitchell and Dee Purkeypile.

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