PITTSBURGH (AP) — A public hearing on a proposed wild-animal entertainment ban that would keep circuses and similar shows out of the city ended up being a circus of sorts, complete with clowns who begged the City Council not to enact the measure.
Syria Shrine clowns held signs outside the City-County Building that said, "We love our animals," and "Councilman Kraus makes clowns cry!"
That referred to Democratic Councilman Bruce Kraus, whose bill was supported by animal rights activists at Tuesday's public hearing. Animal Defender International, based in Los Angeles, said more than 30 U.S. municipalities have similar laws.
Supporters of the bill contend that animals don't jump through fiery hoops because they enjoy it.
"They perform out of fear of what will happen to them if they don't," said Brian Bonsteel, founder of Humane Action Pittsburgh, an animal rights group that helped draft the legislation.
City Council President Darlene Harris said she'll vote against the bill and believes circus animals are motivated to perform by the good relationships they have with their trainers.
"I have never seen any animal do a trick for a person who abuses and beats them. Never," Harris said. "If I hit my dog, do you think she would sit up and roll over and dance for me?"
The bill is modeled on a similar San Francisco law that prohibits the performance of wild or exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement. Lions, tigers, bears, camels, elephants, monkeys and other animals would be banned from performing at circuses or similar shows.
The National Aviary, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and other educational and humane groups would be exempt from the ban, though the zoo's leader criticized the measure.
"None of the speakers in favor of this ordinance have any experience or expertise in actually working with wild exotic animals," said Dr. Barbara Baker, the zoo's president and CEO.
Officials with the Shrine Circus and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus spoke out against the measure, though the latter's shows recently stopped using trained elephants in response to the number of cities and counties that passed ordinances prohibiting the use of bull hooks or nixing wild animal acts altogether.
Erich Gumto, president of a local Shriners chapter, defended the traveling circus, which the group uses to fund 22 hospitals providing free care to children.
"How can we be so compassionate in one aspect and so evil in another?" Gumto said. "It does not make sense."
Kraus said he's gotten 9,000 emails from around the country, most of them supporting the measure he first proposed May 3.
Kraus said the bill will be vetted before it comes up for a vote.
Mayor Bill Peduto is waiting to see what happens to the bill before staking out a position, his spokesman said.