The circus may no longer be coming to town – at least not with its iconic animal star, the elephant.
On Monday, the Spokane City Council will consider an ordinance banning the use of “bullhooks” – implements that resemble fireplace pokers with sharp, steel-hooked tips and are used to train and goad elephants into performing.
“It’s awful,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who is sponsoring the new law. “We’re talking about wild animals that we adapt for our own pleasure. It’s irresponsible to think that it’s OK.”
Kinnear’s ordinance would not only outlaw the use of bullhooks, but also the mere brandishing of such tools, which are also called ankus, goads and elephant hooks. The rule also would forbid the use of baseball bats, pitchforks and axe handles for similar purposes.
“This is just assurance that we wouldn’t have those types of acts in our city, which I consider torture,” Kinnear said.
Despite such conviction, the law may not change much.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which brought elephants to the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena last October and will likely return in the future, recently said it was retiring its elephant act in May after 134 years, moving its remaining elephants to the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, located in Florida between Orlando and Tampa.
And if the ordinance is approved by the City Council, Spokane will join a host of other cities that have banned the hook including Minneapolis; Oakland, California; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Miami Beach, Florida; and Richmond, Virginia.
“The circus doesn’t have elephants anymore,” said Kevin Twohig, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District, which operates the Arena. “The elephant ban, which is essentially what this is about, is happening all over the country.”
Twohig said he worked closely with Kinnear to ensure the law wouldn’t affect dog and cat exhibitions, or the rodeo.
Gary Van Dyke, who has run the El Katif Shrine Circus for four years, also said it wouldn’t affect his operation – but only because it’s held in Spokane Valley.
“It doesn’t really apply to us,” he said. “I don’t know if it makes any difference because we won’t be using the city of Spokane.”
Van Dyke, who runs a farming and cattle operation, was wary to speak about the proposed ban, but asserted that an elephant hook is “strictly a command type of device, a directional device for the animal.”
Van Dyke said the goal of the circus is to entertain children while raising money to help care for ailing kids at the Shriners Hospitals.
“It’s for the children,” he said of this April’s 62nd annual circus.
Kerry Masters, who works with Animal Advocates of the Inland Northwest, disagreed, noting that her group supports Kinnear’s rule but wants to go further by banning all wild animal acts in Spokane.
“You can ban bullhooks while they’re here, but the problem is they’re used in training to break their spirits,” Masters said. “Wild animals aren’t like dogs. You can’t train them with positive reinforcement. You can only get them to subject to you through pain and fear.”
Masters said people who take enjoyment out of watching circus elephants don’t understand what the elephant went through.
“There are people who don’t realize these animals don’t love to perform,” she said. “They have to be tortured and broken. So this would be a good first step.”
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