Months after the Carson and Barnes Circus left Lodi, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals still would like to see Lodi ban the use of bullhooks, electric prods and other devices used to inflict pain on elephants.
Lodi is not the only city that has faced the issue of whether to restrict or ban circuses. Some cities, like Encinitas and Rohnert Park, have already banned all exotic animals within city limits.
But circuses like Carson and Barnes say the bans are unnecessary because they do provide good care for their animals and are not abusing them.
The debate in Lodi started when PETA sent a letter to the city toward the end of May about a week before the circus arrived. It asked the city to ban the use of bullhooks, which the organization says are used to beat circus animals while training them to do tricks. The city took no action at that time.
Since then, the animal-rights organization has sent a follow-up packet to council members with more information on a ban, said RaeLeann Smith, PETA's Circus and Government Affairs Specialist.
While Mayor Larry Hansen said he spoke briefly with PETA after the May letter, the organization has not followed up since then. He said the group was disappointed the council did not pursue a ban.
But when the letter arrived in May, the city was swamped in its yearly budget, Hansen said. He does not know if the council will consider some type of restrictions on circuses in the future.
"Unless it becomes more of an issue, I doubt we would deal with it," Hansen said.
The organization has worked to get statewide bans, Smith said. But PETA often targets cities, too, because there is less red tape, and it can be quicker to get a ban through, Smith said.
"We use a multi-pronged approach to ending abuse of elephants and other animals at the circus," Smith said.
If the city wanted to consider drafting a ban, the Lodi Animal Advisory Commission would be able to research it and present the council with possibilities, said Linda Castelanelli, the committee's chairwoman.
While she has not researched circuses, she does not personally like animals being put on display to do tricks.
"You can go to zoos where they are well-cared for and learn about them there, or go on a safari and see them in nature," she said. "But I don't think elephants are there for our enjoyment, especially to do tricks."
Even though a ban would be helpful, she said consumers play a large role with their pocketbooks, and she recommends people simply not attend the shows.
It takes a circus to ban a circus
At least four cities in California have enacted bans prohibiting exotic animals from being in the city limits.
In Rohnert Park, the drive for a ban on all exotic animals started when the circus came to town, said Mickey Zeldes, supervisor of the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter.
A group of protesters in 2005 marched outside the circus when it came to Rohnert Park, which is located near Sonoma State University, Zeldes said. Then, that carried into the group of residents asking the council for a ban to prevent future circuses from coming to town.
"It's sad the circus has to come to town before it gets attention," Zeldes said. "But city councils are busy, so if the circus coming isn't on the schedule, who's going to take the time to look into it?"
Without publicity, she said most people do not know the "atrocious" conditions the animals are kept in.
She said people can also be unaware that the circus can be dangerous for public safety.
"There have been a lot of situations where animals have escaped and injured people," Zelde said. "Very few communities are equipped to handle an elephant or lion running through town."
Having protesters at the event can help because the council might take into consideration the negative publicity from the demonstrations, Zeldes said.
But protests and threats of circus bans are a way of life for traveling circuses, said Mal Knopf, director of marketing for the Carson and Barnes Circus. During an interview in May, he said the circus often encounters protests, but that the claims are not true.
He said the industry is highly regulated and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regularly inspects the animals. When a circus comes to town, he said local animal rights organizations usually also come out and inspect the animals.
While the circus does use bullhooks to guide the animals, he says circus workers do not beat them.
"When we are spending that kind of money and abiding by the rules and regulations, we are not going to beat up on the animals. That's just silly," Knopf said.
He said he is not concerned about ordinances banning circuses because many of them, while publicized in the media, have never become reality. Because city councils often will not vote for them or citizens groups are against them.
A refuge for animals
In Galt and at a large property in Calaveras County, the Performing Animal Welfare Society provides a sanctuary for exotic animals, some of which have been in circuses.
Time and time again, PAWS co-founder Pat Derby said, the group has received animals that have been permanently scarred by the circus.
Besides visible injuries, Derby said the elephants usually have strain on their rear legs from doing hind leg stands. One of the elephants had a hernia in its back leg.
She said many of the animals exhibit behavior that is associated with stress from being confined in small spaces. Animals are not meant to travel in confined spaces for long periods of time, but in the circus, she said, they are sequestered while traveling.
People who are stressed sometimes bob their head, and she has seen that in the elephants. They will also sway from side to side. Some of the other animals, especially lions and tigers, will pace back and forth.
She believes local ordinances are one of the most effective ways to prevent abuse.
"I think local ordinances help a great deal because they limit the availability of these displays. Oftentimes if you try to do any legislation at a federal level and state level, it's so incredibly competitive because of the large amount of issues," Derby said.
A common misconception is that when cities ban exotic animals, they are really banning circuses. She said there are many animal-free circuses that tour.
"I just always hope that people don't think that you are ruining children's fun by saying no animals at a circus. Kids love the clowns, acrobats, but they are somewhat fearful of the animals. I really don't think it hurts anyone to have animalfree circuses," Derby said.