Cole Bros. denies it.
The Cole Brothers Circus is coming to Frederick next week, and one organization hopes you won't attend. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says Cole Brothers paid a $15,000 fine to the US Department of Agriculture a few years ago for the violating the Animal Welfare Act. PETA says it uncovered evidences that the Circus mistreated two elephants, named Tina and Jewel, by denying them veterinary care. The two pachyderms were hundreds of pounds underweight. Cole Brothers paid the fine.
"Unfortunately, Cole Brothers has decided to continue to do business with other exhibitors who have just as bad a track record of abuse and neglect of animals that they force to perform," says Carney Chester with the PETA Foundation.
"I thoroughly disagree with PETA's position," says Renee Storey, Vice President for Administration for Cole Brothers Circus. "The exhibitors at Cole Brothers take marvelous care of their animals," she says. "For them, it's not just a job; it's a big passion."
She also points out that Cole Brothers must obey all federal, state and local regulations regarding the treatment of animals.
PETA says it has found evidence that elephants are still mistreated at Cole Brothers. "In the circus, they're ripped away from their mothers when they're still nursing. They're beaten with bullhooks to learn tricks. And they spend most of their lives chained in boxcars or tractor trailers, where they're being pulled from city to city in such a way that they can't move more than a step in any direction," says Chester.
But Storey says the elephants are put in an enclosure with an electric fence to protect them. But, she says, it isn't as restrictive as PETA makes it out to be. "The animals are not tethered during the day. They can roam around the compound. They have plenty of exercise, plenty of food, plenty of water," she says.
As for the fine, "it is an administrative penalty, and it was pursuant to a consent decision," says Storey.
Cole Brothers will be performing at the Frederick Fairgrounds from May 2-3. The Circus will hold a tent raising on the morning of the first day, and everyone is invited, free of charge, says Storey. "We are very open," she says.
Chester is urging the public not to attend the Circus, claiming it still mistreats animals. "Every single ticket to a circus which uses animals supports animal abuse," she says.
Chester says it's especially important that parents not take their children to the Circus. "Any child who knew what animals go through to learn the tricks that they're forced to perform in this way would run kicking and screaming from the circus," she says. "No child likes to see animals hurt or abused. Most children have an innate compassion and empathy for animals. They love animals."
But Storey says the Circus is a way to make people aware of the plight of a lot of animals. "By exhibiting exotic animals like tigers and elephants, and allowing the public to see these animals up close and personal, we're actually fostering environmental awareness and the need to protect these endangered species," Storey says.