AVON — Not everyone was happy the circus came to town.
More than a dozen protesters lined the sidewalk in front of Avon Village Elementary, 36600 Detroit Road, on Saturday to voice their opinion that animals do not belong in a circus.
The protesters were not a part of a specific animal rights organization. They simply described themselves as “animal advocates” and voiced their distaste of the Kelly Miller Circus.
Willoughby resident Jeff Zehner said he takes to the streets any time the circus comes near his residence. He said circus animals are mistreated in a number of ways including malnourishment, inadequate traveling accommodations and uneducated handlers.
“We’re just trying to get the word out there that there are ways to take care of animals, and the circus isn’t a way we like to see them,” Zehner said.
Canton resident Veronica Farzan said she shows up in any town where the big top goes up and animals are carted in.
“They’ll claim they treat the animals really well, but if you’re an elephant, tiger, camel or zebra, do you want to be in a cage with no time off?” Farzan said. “These are exotic animals that go from a cage in a truck, to another cage to perform for the circus and are put back in the cage to sleep for the night before going back on a truck.”
Farzan said she opposes circuses using animals. She said shows like Cirque du Soleil make huge profits and do not use a single animal.
“They have never once used a wild animal in any of their shows,” Farzan said of Cirque du Soleil. “We’re not against the circus. If the Kelly Miller Circus wanted to have a good old fashioned show and take out the animal acts, I would actually buy a ticket.”
Circus workers were eager to talk with The Chronicle-Telegram and counter claims that their animals are mistreated. Armando Loyal, the elephant trainer for Kelly Miller Circus, said protesters have every right to their opinion, but they need to take every trainer into consideration before judging a circus as a whole.
Kelly Miller Circus, based in Oklahoma, performs two shows a day from February through October. Loyal said locations generally are scheduled to be an hour apart, and animals are given time in between shows and transport to be out of their cages. He said during the off-season, the elephants have a large area to roam on his 400-acre farm.
“I can’t account for anybody but myself,” Loyal said. “They have a right to protest. But they shouldn’t infringe upon anyone’s right to come to the circus.”
Loyal also said the circus wouldn’t be the same without the animals.
“Like anything in life, the circus may have started out as one thing, but it has improved over the years,” he said. “I’ve seen (protesters holding) signs with pictures from the 1930s, which just isn’t right. It takes a lot of time and care to earn the respect of the elephants.”
Kelly Miller Circus owner John Ringling North II purchased the circus in 2007 and said he brought in an entirely new show and cast. North said he doesn’t take issue with people who don’t like animals being in a circus.
“If they say animals belong in the wild, they’re entitled to that belief,” North said. “But if they say, ‘Kelly Miller beats the animals’, which is a lie, I don’t think that should be allowed.”
According to an online fact sheet from animal rights activists People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Kelly Miller Circus, or animal handlers affiliated with the circus, has been cited 20 times since 1992 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violations ranging from not properly securing animals to failing to report injuries to a veterinarian.
However, the USDA online animal care information system database says Kelly Miller Circus has passed annual inspections since 2011, the furthest back online information is available.