A group of Hudson Valley residents turned up at the Hudson Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie on Friday to protest animal use by Garden Bros. Circus, which was staging three shows at the venue.
Group organizer Natalie Kikel and about a dozen protesters held signs claiming animal abuse by Garden Bros. and other circuses and handing out info from PETA on the topic.
Literature included sworn statements from former circus animal handlers: "In White Plains, when Pete did not perform her act properly, she was taken to the tent and laid down and five trainers beat her with bullhooks," a statement from Tom Rider of White Plains said. "After my three years working with elephants in the circus, I can tell you that they live in confinement and they are beaten all the time when they don't perform properly."
Another former handler, Archele Hundley, quit after working three months after she allegedly saw a handler ram a bullhook into an elephant's ear for refusing to lie down. "They believe that if they keep them afraid they can keep them submissive," she wrote. "This is how they train their employees to handle these animals."
In January, PETA celebrated an announcement that Ringling Bros. Circus was closing down after 146 years. The circus stopped using elephants (under intense public pressure) the prior spring, and ticket sales plummeted. Cole Bros Circus also disappeared as of 2016, due to public pressure, and claims of animal abuse.
A spokesman for Garden Bros. told Daily Voice the circus had no intention of stopping elephant - or other animal - use, and insisted the animals are treated well (see video for the full comment).
Yet PETA's website reports that 'exhibitors of leased animals at Garden Bros. Circus have failed to meet minimum federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The USDA has cited Garden Bros. Circus exhibitors for forcibly striking an elephant with a bullhook and for failing to provide adequate veterinary care, to provide adequate and safe enclosures, to handle animals in a way that does not cause unnecessary stress or trauma, to provide wholesome and uncontaminated food, to provide shelter from the elements, and to provide environmental enrichment.'
The PETA site adds a lengthy laundry list of citations handed out to the circus owner.
Some circus-goers at Friday's Poughkeepsie shows expressed mixed feelings about attending, saying they wanted their kids to be able to see the exotic animals - but adding they'd be keeping a keen eye out to see how animals were treated during the show.
A growing number of municipalities across the country have approved bans or are considering bans of wild and exotic animal performances.
Watch the video to hear comments from protesters and from circus-goers.