The Royal Hanneford Circus came to White Plains Saturday, complete with horses, elephants and animal rights protesters. The small group of protesters carried signs and handed out literature about the mistreatment of circus animals to people entering the to see the performance.
“We’d like to say bring the circus, leave the animals,” said Louise Simmons of Harrison, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals'. “We have nothing against circuses per say, what we’re against is the use of wild and exotic animals.”
PETA details several specific abuse claims against Hanneford and says the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has "cited Royal Hanneford numerous times for failure to provide veterinary care and meet minimum space requirements."
One PETA advocate said wild animals like tigers, bears and elephants can pose a danger to viewers and trainers, using as an example Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy, who was attacked in 2004 by his long-time pet tiger that performed with him.
The group also says circus trainers abuse the animals to get them to learn tricks.
“If their kids could see what went on behind the scenes at the circus they would have to be dragged kicking and screaming [to go] under the big top,” said Ashley Byrne, a senior campaign coordinator for PETA. “Animals are abused in ways like having bull hooks into the flesh of elephants, baby elephants are torn from their mothers at birth and the mothers are forced to give birth in chains.”
The Royal Hanneford Circus could not be reached for comment. A representative of the Westchester County Center viewing the protest declined to comment.
Henry Pearce, chairman of the 2011 New York Convention for the Circus Fans of America Association, denied the protesters' claims of abuse.
“They put out information that is 30 years old and try and convince the public that it’s happening now, which it isn’t,” said Pearce.
Pearce and his colleague, Jack Belles, traveled from New Jersey to White Plains to see the circus and counteract some of the protests.
“One of their biggest claims is that the people in the circus abuse the animals,” Belles said. “These animals are the performers' whole lives, that’s simply not true.”
Belles also said that an elephant is three times the size and weight of a human being and could crush a person if they prodded them with rods.
Rose McCoy, a 9-year-old Manhattan girl, attended the rally with her mother, Emily. She said she came out “to help the animals in the circus. They’re being brutally abused so they can do stupid tricks to entertain some people.” The girl added that “animals having feelings, too. They weren’t put on this Earth for us.”
A Scarsdale man named Eric, who declined to give his last name, walked by the protesters with his wife and son on the way in to the show.
“I think everyone has their own point of view,” he said. “Our son asked us why they were saying that the people were hurting the animals. I think people should just talk with their kids about it."
Roxanne Delgado, a long-time PETA volunteer, told patrons there were alternatives to animal entertainment.
“There’s many circuses that don’t have wild animals, like Cirque Du Soleil or the Big Apple. It’s less animal cruelty and makes more jobs for people,” Delgado said.