A three-year long fight came to an end tonight in the 100-year-old city hall of Milford, CT. The small coastal city, which celebrates its 375th birthday this year, came just short of passing a historic ordinance to prohibit circuses that include wild or exotic animals from private and public lands in the city. However, an amended ordinance did pass, setting the historic New England city on the right path of progress for animal rights.

The ordinance was proposed by local resident, Lorrie Davis, who has been fighting for its passage for three years! All her hard work paid off tonight when an amended version of her ordinance was unanimously passed by the city’s Board of Alderman.

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The original ordinance stated:

It Shall be unlawful of any person to conduct, sponsor, or operate a traveling show or circus that includes wild or exotic animals on any public or private land within the City of Milford.

It has been amended to read:

It shall be unlawful of any persons, company or organization to conduct, sponsor, or operate a traveling show or circus that includes wild or exotic animals on any public or private land within the City of Milford without presentation to the Planning & Zoning Office a current and valid USDA (APHIS “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service”), license thereby certifying compliance with the “Animal Welfare Act” (AWA), no sooner than thirty (30) days prior to exhibition. Such license must be in the name of the actual applicant requesting all other zoning and health inspection permits from the city.

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The provisions of this section shall not apply to nonprofit aquaria or zoos, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), bringing animals into schools, libraries, or other educational institutions for the purpose of educational demonstrations, or to any licensed veterinarian for the purpose of treatment and care of such animal.

As you can see, the ordinance was drastically changed in order to compromise for both sides of the argument. Although there is no official ban on circuses or exotic animal shows, the enforcement of regulations have made this ordinance a step in the right direction. It reinforces the federal regulations imposed by the USDA and makes it tougher to abuse animals within city lines.

However, the ordinance didn’t pass without a debate. Residents for the ban and against it both took to the microphone to share their beliefs. Even representatives associated with organizations, like In Defense of Animals and Circus Fans Association, made comments on the ordinance.

The people in favor of the ordinance all cited the cruelty of the circus, the intelligence of elephants, and the emotional and social nature of these majestic animals. Davis even held up pictures of elephants in captivity to strengthen her point.

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Gary Payne, eastern vice president of Circus Fans Association, spoke in opposition to the ordinance. While at the microphone, he claimed the ordinance would bring an “end to an American institution,” arguing that the “Animal Rights lobby has cried wolf one too many times.” He cites the lack of evidence of abuse as fair dismissal of the ordinance.

Others spoke out against the ordinance, including Goshen, CT residents who have own elephants for over 40 years. They all invoked the excuse of tradition to argue against the ordinance and even used the excuse that elephants are endangered so we might as well see them while we can.

Although the opposition states there is a lack of evidence that abuse takes place, one of the circuses that visits Milford annually has a horrible record of abuse, fines, and probation for failing to meet minimum standards set by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  The name of the circus is The Cole Brothers Circus and according to Born Free USA fact sheet, they’ve violated the AWA on a number of times, including in 2011 when they paid a $150,000 fine for violating the Endanger Species Act.

Due to the nature of the Cole Brothers Circus, where they lease USDA certified animals from others, the new ordinance will prevent their return without proper licenses and only for animals they are actual guardians of.

The penalty for violating the new ordinance has been amended from a fine and up to 1 year of imprisonment, to just a fine of $5,000 per animal per day.

After speaking with Lorrie Davis briefly about the ordinance and its new amendments, she believes “it’s a start” for expanding animal rights within the city.

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Although the “Small City with a Big Heart” has come just shy of having a heart large enough for elephants, the new ordinance is a victory three years in the making that brings the municipality one step closer to banning animal cruelty disguised as entertainment. Congrats to Davis and other citizens of Milford who have given a voice to those who cannot speak.

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