Paul Ostrow and Betsy Hodges: What a city can usefully do for circus animals

  • Article by: Paul Ostrow and Betsy Hodges
  • September 5, 2007 - 6:20 PM

Over the past several years, animal-rights activists have been lobbying Minneapolis City Hall to prohibit wild animals in circuses. This issue will be heard by the City Council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee next week. While it's important to protect the health and dignity of these animals, there are compelling reasons not to adopt a total ban.

Because of our progressive tradition, our City Council is quite often asked to address issues that require a regional or even a national response. This issue is no different. Minneapolis would be the first major city in the country to ban wild animals in circuses. We do not believe that the enactment of a ban here will lead to widespread bans elsewhere. A ban limited to Minneapolis would not improve the life of one animal. Strengthening our commitment to aggressively regulate the treatment of wild animals that perform locally, however, will safeguard the animals and create a model to replicate elsewhere.

We have worked together to craft an alternative that will ensure the health and safety of the animals and provide for real consequences and oversight. The city's current regulations of animal circuses are inadequate. There are no real guidelines for the treatment of the animals, little documentation required in a license application and very limited enforcement tools. We must do more.

Our proposal would significantly strengthen our oversight. Annual off-site inspections of training facilities or other circus locations would take place at the expense of the event. Increased fees for circus permits would reimburse the city for the increased costs of a more extensive review of the operator's history and veterinarian records of the animals. The animals would be inspected daily in coordination with the Animal Humane Society. The changes would add meaningful enforcement measures and penalties to ensure compliance.

We also need to continue our stewardship of residents' property taxes. The city's top bonding priority for the 2008 legislative session is to obtain debt relief for the Target Center. This could mean millions of dollars for critical basic city services. Banning the second-most-attended event at the Target Center while asking for debt relief on the facility would trigger skepticism, criticism and even derision from the state policymakers whose support we need for this critical priority. It is also likely that a ban would expose our taxpayers to the financial consequences of legal liability to the Shrine Circus, since Target Center's management group has a contract with the Shriners through 2012.

At the municipal level, it is our obligation to change what we can. It is not within our power to eliminate the keeping of wild animals in captivity. It is both within our power and our duty to provide meaningful tools to protect the animals and to be leaders nationally in our oversight of circuses in our city.

Paul Ostrow and Betsy Hodges are members of the Minneapolis City Council.

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