A national touring circus performing in Sandusky on Tuesday faces scrutiny from the world’s leading animal rights organization.
Further compounding the controversy: A popular race car driver urged management at Sandusky Speedway, hosting the Carson & Barnes Circus, to cancel the show altogether.
On behalf of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, ARCA Racing Series driver Leilani Münter, a vegan and environmentalist, sent a letter to the Sandusky Speedway to not host the circus.
A related news release, which the Register obtained, contends an eyewitness gave sworn testimony about a 2013 incident alleging a Carson & Barnes Circus employee beat an elephant — by both electrocuting and poking the animal with a sharp object — as four children sat on her back. Münter's letter also included a graphic video allegedly showing a circus trainer abusing an elephant.
Her letter also references Carson & Barnes racking up more than 100 citations, governed by the Animal Welfare Act, by mistreating animals and endangering the public.
“You and I both know that tigers don’t naturally jump through rings of fire, elephants don’t stand on balls or balance on their heads and bears don’t ride bikes,” Münter wrote in a letter the Register obtained. “So why do they behave this way in the circus? It’s not because they are offered praise or treats in return. It’s because they are violently beaten into submission.”
Animals traveling with the Carson & Barnes Circus, according to Münter, “are mistreated, overworked to the point of exhaustion and, all too often, neglected and denied access to veterinary care for injuries inflicted by handlers or sustained as a result of the grueling circus life they are forced to endure, all so that we can be ‘entertained.’”
Despite the concerns, Sandusky Speedway race director Kevin Jaycox said the show will go on as planned Tuesday, with two separate performances at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Carson & Barnes Circus dismissed PETA’s and Münter’s concerns.
“We take good care of our animals,” circus owner Kristin Parra told the Register. “The safety of our animals is our No. 1 concern.”
Either veterinarians or those representing a local, state or federal agency inspect each circus animal — elephants, a donkey, llamas, a miniature zebra, a camel and more — at least once every 30 days, Parra said.
“We do this everyday,” Parra said. “We have been doing this for 78 years, and people all across the country have a right to protest. That is fine. But my concern is not what the protesters are doing. My concern is to make sure we have a good show, and the public can come out, enjoy the show and take away lasting memories.”
Others even vouch for the circus and disregard certain claims made by organizations such as PETA.
“Animal-rights extremists have been misrepresenting (elephants) to support their agenda, which includes eliminating elephants in captivity, putting the livestock industry out of business and removing companion animals from our homes,” said Missouri-based Dr. Dennis Schmitt, who specializes in elephant medical management. “The leadership of many extremist groups appears to purposely mislead their membership and the general public to encourage indignation and initiate action. This well-funded minority is extremely vocal, attracts media attention through their stunts and emotion-based rhetoric and attempts to influence elected officials in communities where these extremists don’t even reside.”
Carson & Barnes Circus employees also said the video Münter references is almost 20 years old. PETA officials didn’t verify when the video was made.