Carson & Barnes set up the big top Tuesday at Huron County Fairgrounds, offering a circus teeming with acrobats, unicycles and animal performances.
But not everyone was excited.
Some visitors stood on the sidelines protesting the treatment of the show’s biggest performers — the elephants.
Norwalk resident Sherri Rodriguez and her daughters, Erin and Adrianna Rodriguez, passed out flyers and held signs reading “Boycott the circus” and “Their blood is on your hands.”
“Every ticket you buy makes an elephant cry,” protesters chanted as cars parked.
Some drivers shouted things at Rodriguez, while others drove by silently without looking.
Carson & Barnes is the oldest family-owned circus in the U.S. The company is billing its 2010 tour — its 74th year — as a continuation of a “great American family tradition.”
The show brings guests face-to-face with world-renowned performers and exotic animals, and is currently making its way through Ohio.
But there are those who would like to see the show cut short.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA — a national animal rights group — said more than 40 violations and abuse allegations have been filed against Carson & Barnes over the years.
The alleged wrongdoings range from escaped animals to those receiving inadequate care, leading to sickness or death.
PETA has also said the circus’ former animal care director was videotaped prodding elephants with metal bullhooks. Those same bullhooks are still used during shows.
“That’s why we’re here,” Rodriguez said. “You can’t form an opinion unless you know all the facts, and I’ve done my research. These animals shouldn’t be forced to perform and do things that are unnatural to them.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections in recent years showed no allegations of animal abuse or violations that resulted in fines for Carson & Barnes.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, said she’s hoping the protests will have an impact on the circus and its visitors.
“We had one car that already turned around,” she said prior to Tuesday’s 4:30 show. “A lot of people have stopped to think about it. Even if they still go in today, at least they might stop and think about it the next time.”
Monroeville resident Joshua Ward stopped to talk to Rodriguez, his son Landon, 4, and daughter Ellie, 3, in tow.
Ward immediately asked her for more information.
“I told my son prior to coming here that this may happen,” Ward said. “It’s good for (Rodriguez) to stick to what she believes in if she thinks this is what she needs to do.”
Ward said he had not researched Carson & Barnes prior to coming. He’s visited circuses in the past and saw nothing wrong with using animals as part of the show if they’re treated humanely.
“They’re part of the show; it wouldn’t be a circus without an elephant,” he said. “I’m still going, but if I see anything abusive, obviously I won’t stay. I don’t want to show my kids that.”
Other guests didn’t seem interested in elephants, and instead talked about enjoying other attractions.
“The best part was the guy that could fit himself in a box,” Hannah Presthee, 8, said with a laugh. “It was weird. He was so flexible and I didn’t think anybody would ever be able to do that.”
Val Raymond, of Norwalk, said her granddaughter enjoyed the elephants.
“My granddaughter got to ride an elephant at intermission and she was so excited,” Raymond said. “I didn’t see any instance of animal cruelty.”
On its website, Carson & Barnes said its animals are well-treated and it prides itself on the “level of care and the healthy environment (they) provide for all animal performers.”
Jaseen Pintado, a Carson & Barnes spokesman, said protesters like Rodriguez are common to circuses, regardless of animal treatment.
And Carson & Barnes’ performance was not affected by the protesters, Pintado said.
“If anything, they help us and they make it better,” Pintado said. “We have a much larger attendance today than expected because more people read about us. Even if they say ‘don’t go,’ they still give the dates and people will end up going.”
About 800 people attended the first show in Norwalk, while Pintado projected even more spectators at the 7:30 p.m. show.
He expects everyone will enjoy the show despite the negative attention.
“It’s been really successful so far and is going really well in Ohio,” Pintado said.
(Story by Alissa Widman, Special to the Register)
Want to go?
What: Carson & Barnes circus
Show Times: 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. today at Sandusky County Fairgrounds, 901 Rawson Ave., Fremont
Cost: Tickets are buy one, get one free. Cost is $18 for adults; $10 for children