County considers banning traveling displays of wild and exotic animals

June 14, 2018

The Multnomah County Board heard the first reading of an ordinance Thursday that would ban wild or exotic animals in traveling displays or acts. The ordinance, which would amend existing County code, prohibits traveling animal displays that include wild or exotic animals for live public entertainment or amusement from operating in the County.  

“This is about lions and tigers and bears: it’s not their natural habitat,” Multnomah County Animal Services Director Jackie Rose told the Board. “This is an amendment to our existing ordinance. We already have language that one cannot harbor or own exotic animals. We are simply limiting those who want to bring wild or exotic animals to this area for purposes of live display like traveling acts or fairs.”

Multnomah County Animal Services Director Jackie Rose and Multnomah County Attorney David Blankfeld speak before board on June 14

The ordinance, sponsored by Commissioner Sharon Meieran, was brought to the County’s attention by local animal advocates concerned about exotic animals forced to perform using inhumane practices. The change would include animal displays in acts like carnivals, fairs, festivals and circuses such as the now-defunct Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

It excludes:

  • any facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (such as the Oregon Zoo)
  • veterinary clinics that are treating or rehabilitating exotic animals
  • anyone temporarily transporting exotic animals through the county (provided the transit time does not exceed three days)
  • exotic animals for film-making purposes and
  • any person or facility licensed as an exhibitor or breeder by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act

View the full ordinance

Rose said the animals used by the film industry are not on display as they are in traveling shows. “It’s the exploitation of using wild or exotic animals for public entertainment,’’ she said. “They are not showpieces. They are not something for us to gawk at as an exploitation -- based on how they’re handled and managed.”

She added,  “Zoos are professional organizations that are designed to manage and house animals, provide enrichment activities, understand physiological needs and concerns and to be able to adequately care for these animals.”

Representatives from the Oregon Humane Society, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of the United States, and other organizations Thursday cited their concerns about exhibiting exotic animals — ranging from the cost to taxpayers to animal safety.    

Sharon Harmon of the Oregon Humane Society speaks before board. Community activist Andrea Kozil (center) and Multnomah County Animal Services Director Jackie Rose listen
Sharon Harmon of the Oregon Humane Society speaks before board. Community activist Andrea Kozil (center) and Multnomah County Animal Services Director Jackie Rose listen.

“We are called every time there is a traveling animal exhibit in the community in an appeal for us to improve those living conditions,” said Sharon Harmon of the Oregon Humane Society. “To be in a cage, on a truck, to be on view, to be taunted, is not a life any of us could support.”

Lisa Wathne, manager of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said wild animals in circuses are trained with pain and the fear of punishment. “They’re caged and chained in trucks and trailers, forced to endure months of grueling travel, bullied to perform silly tricks and are denied everything that is natural and important to them.”

“A lot of legislators will ask us ‘isn’t this already handled through existing laws?’’ she said. “The sad fact is, existing laws do not sufficiently protect animals in traveling shows. A USDA license is not evidence of exceptional or even adequate animal care ... Exhibitors can, and all too often do, subject animals to grossly inhumane conditions yet are still considered in compliance.”

Members of the public also weighed in. Opponents questioned the exemptions and challenged the county’s authority to pass the amendment. They also said similar statewide efforts are not fully-enforced and there is a lack of data to support the proposal.    

“I have yet to see any data that supports the amendment presented,” said Amanda St. Thomas of Clackamas County. “Over 26 years, and these are PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) statistics, from 1990-2016, there have been a total of four big cat attacks in Oregon. Only one was a fatality, only one was a private enterprise, and that was back in 1992. So the data that this is a public safety issue is not supported.”

Supporters pointed to examples where both animals and the public were at risk.

Captive big cats kill one American every year, said Delciana Winders.  

“Last summer, police gunned down a tiger named Susie in a residential neighborhood (in Georgia) after she was spotted attacking a dog,” said Winders. “It took authorities hours to find out who was responsible. It turned out to be the parent company of Ringling Brothers."

“The company had been hauling her and more than a dozen big cats across the country and Susie escaped in the middle of the night,” Winders told the Board. “The company didn’t even know she was missing until it saw the news reports about the attack.”

Commissioner Sharon Meieran requested an amendment to make clear that horses, mules and donkeys are not included.

“We never intended this to affect 4-H clubs, to affect horses in the Rose Festival parade, we don’t see horses as wild and exotic animals. It’s not generally the large commercial industry that is transporting horses for display,” said Rose, the Animal Services director. “We are simply trying to preclude people from having the opportunity to come in with exotic animals that are being transported simply for display purposes.”  

If passed, the county joins four states, and more than 135 other localities across 37 states that have passed restrictions governing the use of wild or exotic animals in circuses and traveling shows.

The enforcement process would be complaint-driven and enforced by Multnomah County Animal Services.

“The beauty of our process is that this ordinance is the first reading,” said Meieran. “It is scheduled to come back for a second reading and vote on July 12. We will take these questions into consideration ...  We welcome anyone to come provide testimony at the next meeting or contact our office about this.”