Proposed Ban on Exotic Animals in Westchester Hits Wall (of Legislators)

elephantThis past Monday, at the invitation of the Committee to Ban Wild and Exotic Animal Acts, Michelle Land and I attended a meeting of the Legislation Committee of the Westchester Board of Legislators.  We were there to testify in favor of proposed legislation banning USDA certified “dangerous” animals from county property.  Such a bill would effectively deny circuses that use wild and exotic animals a venue in Westchester County.  For some time, the group has been attempting gently but persistently to interest the legislature in the horrific treatment of and concomitant danger to public safety from wild animals used in traveling entertainment (like circuses).

Much has been written (see, e.g., here) about the brutal methods employed in the “training” of circus animals.  I have also touched upon it here.  As a result of both this mistreatment and the fact that “wild” animals are just that, the animals are unpredictable and on an number of occasions have caused injury either to their handlers or bystanders or both.

Sadly, none of this moved the Legislation Committee.  Mrs. Hanneford, owner of the Hanneford Circus (an annual visitor to Westchester) soliliquized about her love for the animals and how she would never tolerate their mistreatment.  She did acknowledge employing Tony Frisco, a legendarily brutal trainer of elephants whose casual sadism has been captured on video.  However, Mrs. Hanneford stated that he must be okay because the USDA cleared him of all charges.  As for the tape documenting his deeds, she declared that she had not and would not watch it because he had not been charged with a crime.   Consequently, according to her, the animals are treated “correctly.”

The Legislators tabled the bill.  Despite the presence of the Bronx Zoo 15 miles away, one legislator maintained that the circus represented the “only shot” for many kids to see these animals.  Other members agreed and/or felt that this was a discretionary matter best left to the county executive or the federal government.

All in all, it was a bewildering afternoon.  Nevertheless, the battle is not lost.  The Committee to Ban Wild and Exotic Animal Acts remains steadfast and unbowed.  The fight continues.  Stay tuned.

–David Cassuto