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Another Shrine Circus Visit to Boise, Another Round of Protests

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Protesters greet the Shrine Circus outside of  CenturyLink Arena in 2015. - JUSTIN KIRKHAM
  • Justin Kirkham
  • Protesters greet the Shrine Circus outside of CenturyLink Arena in 2015.


When the El Korah Shrine Circus returns to Boise this weekend, thousands of families are expected to flock to CenturyLink Arena, but a few of them won’t be going inside. Instead, they’ll be standing near the door, protesting what they say is the enslavement and cruel treatment of animals used for entertainment.

“A good 40 of us will show up for all three days, then there will be some more that stop by when their busy schedules allow” said Lorraine Guptill, who is pretty busy herself. She’s a Mountain Home store owner and a grandmother who often looks after her grandkids.

As Guptill spoke to Boise Weekly from her Elmore County home, the chatter of kids provided a constant backdrop. But Guptill said she’s eager to share her message: protesting the use of animals for entertainment purposes.

Guptill said she has “nothing but love for the animals," and each summer when the Shrine Circus swings through Boise, she and fellow citizens have staged peaceful protests outside of the venue.

“The suffering of these animals is so great,” said Guptill. “We can’t just ignore the suffering that brings them here.”

The Shrine Circus travels to approximately 120 U.S. cities each year and has been operating since the early 1900s. Yet the controversy over the use of circus animals has gained more attention from animal rights activists in the past two decades.

Shrine Circus officials have insisted they take "magnificent care" of the animals and have no plans of getting rid of their star attractions.

The Shrine Circus website insists “there’s a much better feeling to kindness than there is to cruelty, and compassion generates a lot more good energy than abuse ever could. It just makes sense to be kind.”

While activists such as Guptill laud the Shriners' mission of raising funds for children's medical care, they disagree that the organization's circus is as kind and compassionate as its claims.

The Shrine Circus has been met with regular demonstrations. - JUSTIN KIRKHAM
  • Justin Kirkham
  • The Shrine Circus has been met with regular demonstrations.
“Raising money to help children by hurting another species is not the way to go” said Guptill, “Imagine the positive impact a cruelty-free circus would make—how many more people would show up, how many more people would be helped." 

Once more, Guptill and her colleagues will rely on posters, flyers and word of mouth to get their message across, depicting images of bullhooks and chains being used on tigers and elephants.

Guptill said she and her colleagues stand ready to educate, but are careful not be too pushy. Stationed outside the entry doors before and after shows, they said that their demonstrations have been surprisingly well received. For example, she points to a 2012 protest outside the Idaho Center in Nampa. That’s when more than 100 protesters pushed back against the appearance of the Ringling Brother Circus. Ringling Brothers has yet to return to the Treasure Valley.

“If we can just help one or two people it’s worth it; it’ll spread like a ripple, one person tells another, tells another,” Guptill said. “We just have to open our eyes. Touring circus acts that focus on human thrills rather than those of animals are leading the way of the future of circuses as animal-free acts gain momentum.”

The Shrine Circus returns to Boise on Friday, June 24 with shows at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Additionally shows at the CenturyLink Area take place Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26 with performances at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day.

“But it’s time for a change and it’s happening across the country, slowly by slowly” said Guptill.