Atlanta Council Panel Upholds Elephant Torture

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(APN) ATLANTA — In a five to two vote, the Public Safety/Legal Administration Cmte of the City Council of Atlanta, voted on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, to approve an ordinance regarding animal abuse that does not include protections for elephants from the use of bullhooks.

Council Members CT Martin (District 10) and Joyce Sheperd (District 12) were the two nay votes.  

Cmte Chairman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large), and Members Ivory Young (District 3), Cleta Winslow (District 4), Alex Wan (District 6), and Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) voted yes.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Fulton County recently banned the use of the controversial bullhook, which circuses like Ringling Bros. use to beat and torture elephants with.

It was originally believed the ban would not have any impact in terms of preventing Ringling Bros. from holding its annual circus in Atlanta, because the company holds the circus within city limits, which are governed by Atlanta’s laws.

However, it was recently revealed that Atlanta does not have its own animal control laws and has adopted Fulton County laws–to be enforced in the portions of the City of Atlanta located in Fulton County–by way of reference.  [Atlanta has a separate agreement with DeKalb County.]

Fulton County, which has had an animal control contract to provide services for the City for decades, advised the City that it could not continue to provide those services after June 30, 2012, if Atlanta did not renew its agreement with the county.  The previous agreement elapsed two years ago, and the County had essentially been continuing to provide the services without an agreement, which has presented legal challenges.

For example, when Ringling Bros. sought a temporary restraining order to prevent Fulton County from enforcing the bullhook ban in the City of Atlanta in February 2012, Fulton County Superior Court Judge John Goger agreed with Ringling, noting that the ban was unenforceable because the County had no current agreement with the City.  [This even though the City had been paying the County despite the lack of agreement.]

Mayor Kasim Reed’s office had pushed for this ordinance, which establishes City of Atlanta animal control provisions within the City code, but does not ban the bullhook.

Numerous speakers with the circus industry as well as animal rights activists spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.  

Activists brought a sample of a bullhook for Councilmembers to look at.  Fox 5 footage shows Wan looking closely at the bullhook and feeling the hook to gauge its sharpness.

Delceanna Winders, Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement for PETA, introduced the bullhook during her comments.

“This has a sharp hook on it and a point that’s used to jab, strike, and hook elephants.  We had to get special permission to be let into the building with this today and to be escorted into it,” Winders said.

Anna Ware, a board member of the Atlanta Humane Society, also showed the bullhook during her remarks.

“If this is not a weapon, why did your own security require me to be escorted to this meeting today?  If this is not a weapon, why is TSA at the Atlanta Airport not allowing this weapon to be allowed onto the plane, and must be checked?” Ware said.

But Wan was not convinced.

“In your comments, you mentioned about how why did security need to approve this if it’s not a  weapon.  But I would actually submit to you, that perhaps a pair of scissors is not a weapon, but TSA won’t let you onto a plane with it.  Just because an item can be used as a weapon doesn’t make it a weapon,” Wan said.

The difference, of course, is that scissors have multiple purposes; the bullhook has only one purpose, which is to force elephants to do tricks at circuses by torturing them into submission.

Wan also wanted to know whether the Atlanta Humane Society had taken a position on electric collars or fences for dogs.

“Isn’t that the same concept though?  It’s a tool to guide behavior which inflicts, I don’t want to say pain, but shock, to an animal to get a certain behavior or stop a certain behavior?” Wan asked.  Wan wanted to know whether a bullhook ban would also have implications for electric dog collars or fences.

Dorothy Hancock later responded in her comments: “I think the existence of one cruelty doesn’t justify the continuing allowing another cruelty.  We’re sorting out a specific thing here.  When I was in England twenty years ago, wild animals weren’t used in circuses at all.  They’re not allowed.  And incidentally, nor are electric collars.”

Councilman Willis wondered how the ban of the bullhook would impact the circus in Atlanta and whether it implied the non-use of elephants in circuses.

“If there is not a way to get these elephants to do these tricks–which are unnatural which are often painful for them–without inflicting pain, suffering, no it shouldn’t be done at all.  Other circuses have moved away from using elephants and have been very successful,” Winders said.

During the Council meeting, Council Members also looked at video footage of circus trainers beating elephants with bullhooks, which Willis pulled up on his laptop, although the video was not made available to the audience.

Councilwoman Sheperd, who arrived late, appeared to have done her homework.

She asked the circus lobbyists about a settlement between Feld Entertainment, which produces the Ringling Bros. circus, and the US Department of Agriculture, for violations under the Animal Welfare Act between 2007 and 2011.

A Feld representative replied the violations included use of the bullhook, but stated that Feld disagreed with the findings and paid the settlement without admitting wrongdoing.

Also of note, towards the beginning of the debate on the new animal control ordinance, Councilwoman Winslow asked David Bennett, Senior Policy Advisor to Mayor Reed, whether there were any differences between Fulton County’s existing animal control ordinance and the newly proposed Atlanta ordinance.

“The two ordinances are virtually identical,” Bennett told the Cmte, making a blatantly false and deceptive statement.  They are not identical; the key difference, and only difference, is the bullhook ban.

(END/2012)

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