Shriners resist monitoring of animal handling at circus by Pittsburgh PD

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Shriners resist monitoring of animal handling at circus by Pittsburgh PD

PITTSBURGH  – The city of Pittsburgh has proposed that police officers inspect how the Shrine Circus handles its wild and exotic animals, including elephants and tigers, for its annual show in September, a proposal that the circus has rejected. 

Syria Shriners plans to host its 69th annual Shrine Circus at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh in September. However, the city and the circus have been embroiled in a legal battle for some time now. The Syria Shriners have now filed a second amended complaint against the city asking that a judge declare an ordinance put in place by the city be invalid and unenforceable. 

In May 2016, the City Council of Pittsburgh introduced an ordinance that would prohibit the performance of wild and exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement. 

While that legislation stalled, the council passed an ordinance in December 2017 that banned certain types of devices and equipment that would “inflict pain on wild and exotic animals,” including electric prods, shocking devices, elephant hooks and baseball bats.

According to court documents, the council wanted to encourage the circus to take a “more improved and enlightened course” to handling the animals.

A lawsuit challenging the ordinance was filed by the Shriners earlier this year in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

They argued that the ordinance was only drafted to “rid the city” of circuses with wild and exotic animals, which is unconstitutional. The ordinance is asking that the circus “refrain from using certain certain well-established loss prevention and risk management tools and techniques,” according to the lawsuit. 

Attorneys for the Shriners say the ordinance is “unconstitutional” and is an illegal attempt by the city council “to exercise municipal authority.”

According to court documents, the city agreed to stay the ordinance providing that the circus allowed for “inspection and monitoring of the training or controlling the behavior of any Wild or Exotic animal involved in Shrine Circus.” 

In July, the city submitted a list of 13 proposed monitors/inspectors, including Pittsburgh Police and the Pittsburgh Animal Care & Control. The proposal included that a three-inspection team should be on hand and additional overtime would be needed in order to conduct the inspections. 

On August 22, the Shrine Circus submitted a second amended complaint and another filing objecting to the proposal, arguing in part that inspectors or monitors should be impartial. They have asked the courts to declare the ordinance “invalid and unenforceable.”

The Shriners are concerned that Pittsburgh PD does not have the skill to perform the inspection, and training by Humane Action Pittsburgh won’t provide it, either.

“Rather, Humane Action Pittsburgh is primarily a political advocacy group, and a principal sponsor of the disputed ordinance,” the Shriners say.

Shrine Circus was started in 1906 and travels throughout 120 cities throughout the year in the US. The circus has been hosted in the City of Pittsburgh for 68 years and attracts about 20,000 attendees each year.

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