According to John Di Leonardo, president of the Long Island Orchestrating for Nature animal rights organization, he and others attended a Greenport Fire Department wardens meeting on Wednesday.
Di Leonardo was among the protestors who stood outside with signs at the July Cole Bros. Circus event in Greenport, crying against alleged animal abuse.
"Though the issue was not discussed among the wardens while we were there, I do think the meeting went well," Di Leondardo said, adding that he attended with LION Vice President Julie Cappiello and Cutchogue resident Marilyn Flynn. Both Flynn and Di Leonardo spoke.
Di Leonardo said that while some did not seem receptive to their presence, "Overall, the wardens seemed receptive to what we had to say. so we are hopeful that they will make the right decision. We are certainly willing to work with them in whatever capacity they would like to help them accomplish this. We’ve offered to help in educating the public about why the animals would not be back and in finding more humane fundraisers, as well."
According to Di Leonardo, some asked why the protestors did not notify the wardens that they would be present at the meeting. Di Leonardo said he called the firehouse and left a message but never received a call back.
At the meeting, Di Leondardo read a letter to the wardens, and played a video of he alleged mistreatment of animals used in the circus.
Flynn, he said, spoke about how these animals "are taken as babies from their mothers and live tortured lives."
As the wardens did not hold a discussion on the issue, Di Leonardo plans to follow up with a phone call this week to inquire about what transpired after he and the others left.
The goal of attending the meeting, he said, was to talk about "why we were there, present evidence of abuse, and discuss alternatives."He added, "We certainly appreciate that the Greenport Fire Department has to fundraise; however, there is no excuse for their support of convicted animal abusers. We are hoping that this is more a case of ignorance than indifference on the part of the Department and would love to help clear up any misunderstandings. Tensions often run high during demonstrations so we are thankful for this opportunity to discuss this issue in another setting. If the Department knew the truth, we are confident they would not be supporting the circus."
Di Leonardo said LION is "more than happy to work with the Greenport Fire Department in finding another, more acceptable fundraiser for the Department, such as a Casino Night, a 5K, or a carnival like many other Departments use."
And, he said, if the fire department wants to "stick with a circus, that can be great too. There are many animal-free circuses out there, like Cirque Du Soleil and Circus Smirkus. We would be more than glad to put them in touch with a few."
The small group of animal advocates, representing the LION animal rights group, turned out at the Polo Grounds in Greenport to protest the conditions under which animals are allegedly kept in the circus.
The group protested at each of the Cole Bros. Circus' scheduled dates, including performances held at the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton.
According to Di Leondardo, Cole Bros. Circus is currently on United States Department of Agriculture probation for violation of the Endangered Species Act, and their owner and President, John Pugh, is on criminal probation for violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Cole Bros. Circus, he added, has been cited for multiple violations of the USDA Animal Welfare Act, including failure to provide adequate shelter for animals, physical abuse of elephants and other animals, and endangering the public, resulting in multiple deaths, including a New York resident.
"Not only are circuses cruel, but public safety is a major concern," said Di Leonardo. "It was not long ago that a Cole Bros. tiger escaped, causing a pile-up and multiple hospitalizations. These animals don't want to be caged. They'll do anything to get free."
Di Leonardo said the alleged animal cruelty is difficult to accept. "It hurts," he said. "I'm an anthrozoologist. It breaks my heart to see elephants being tortured."
Added protestor Liz Downey, "I'm here because animals in circuses are entombed alive," she said. The animals, she said, are kept in sections of a tractor trailer, unable to sit, lie down, or turn — and unable to roam the up to 40 miles per day they would in the wild. Two of the baby elephants in the show, protestors added, were torn away from their mother at a too-young age.
"It's a life of torture, for 15 minutes of tricks," she said. "It's horrifying."
Added Cutchogue resident and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals member Flynn, “I’ve always been against animals in circuses; they’re teated abominably. It's insulting to the dignity of these animals to make an elephant put all its weight on its back feet, and it's hard on them. It's a terrible thing to do to them."
But according to Cole Bros., much of what is said is rumor and speculation.
"There is a lot of misinformation concerning Cole Bros. Circus' record concerning animal welfare," said Renee Storey, Vice President, Administration of the Cole Bros. Circus. "Over its more than 128 year history, Cole Bros. Circus has been committed to maintaining high animal welfare standards for animals that appear in conjunction with our show. Cole Bros. Circus has never been found to have violated any animal welfare law. Cole Bros. Circus has never been found to have mistreated elephants."
She added, "The humane and responsible care provided by licensed, professional exhibitors at Cole Bros. Circus ensures the health, welfare and safety of all humans and animals involved in the relationship."
Members of the Greenport Fire Department did not respond to calls for comment.