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Elected Officials From Boise, Meridian Join Chorus Against Exhibition of Circus Animals

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Protesters greeted the Shrine Circus at CenturyLink Arena June 19. - JUSTIN KIRKAHAM
  • Justin Kirkaham
  • Protesters greeted the Shrine Circus at CenturyLink Arena June 19.
Officials in Boise and Meridian are the latest to add their voice to the increasingly loud call to end the public exhibition of exotic animals in Idaho. 

Armed with signs depicting elephant prods, rusty chains and tiger cubs gnawing on cage bars, protesters gathered outside the CenturyLink Arena on June 19-21, where the Shrine Circus made its appearance in Boise. They were joined by Boise City Councilman TJ Thomson and Meridian City Councilwoman Genesis Milam.

"Protests like this, in general, are protected by the First Amendment, so I would support them regardless," Thomson said. "But I personally stand with the efforts here today."

As a child, Thomson said he marveled at circus acts; but, as an adult, he saw suffering instead.

"I think it's time we turn the page on this chapter of American history and stop the use of exotic animals for entertainment purposes," he said. "These are the folks that are standing up for animals that can't speak for themselves."

Thomson said he's not aiming to bring the cause before the Boise City Council, as it has been brought before the Ketchum City Council and Blaine County commissioners in the form of a ban on the exhibition of exotic animals. Instead, he said his goal is to help in "conveying the truth" about the treatment of circus animals. 

The Shrine Circus has been met with demonstrations at multiple locations throughout the Northwest, including Spokane, Wash. - JUSTIN KIRKHAM
  • Justin Kirkham
  • The Shrine Circus has been met with demonstrations at multiple locations throughout the Northwest, including Spokane, Wash.
"My goal is to start a public discussion," Thomson said. " We need to determine if this is something we will continue to support as a community."

Meridian doesn't currently play host to exotic animal acts within its city limits. But, for the past five years, Milam said she has actively participated in Boise circus animal protests.

"Right now we're trying to help out our neighbors in Boise," Milam said. "But if they come to Meridian, we will have to work on that. People don't realize why the animals are doing what they're doing in these shows. They're tortured until they do what circuses want them to do. It's not OK to support that."

Protesters said they've been criticized for keeping people away from the circus, thus lessening funds to the Shriners Hospitals for Children, which sponsors the nationally touring show.

"It seems like this is a charitable event, but its actually kind of hypocritical," protester Lorraine Guptill said. "We are not against the Shriners at all. We are against promoting cruelty for charity."
 
Guptill added that touring the animals through strange environments, including the intense heat of the Intermountain West, is detrimental to the creatures' health.

"They can't be subjected to these extreme temperature changes," Guptill said. "And tigers need to roam at night—not sit in a cage."

Fellow protester Heather Steele said that a direct donation to the Shriners could be a tax deduction, while a ticket to the circus, which she says supports animal abuse, cannot.

"People think we are against the circus, but we are not," Steele said. "People don't come to see animals being hurt. They come to see the death defying stunts and acts."

Thomson echoed a need for change, pointing to Cirque du Soleil as an example of a circus that has been successful without the use of animals.

"I'll be the first one in line with my family when there is no more animal cruelty in these circuses," Thomson said.