Council Member Darlene Harris Given Proof of Circus Cruelty That She Requested

PETA Provides Overwhelming Evidence of Animal Abuse, Seeks Apology From Harris

For Immediate Release:
April 13, 2017

Moira Colley 202-483-7382


On Sunday, Pittsburgh City Council Member Darlene Harris rode one of the elephants forced to perform in a Shrine circus, and when challenged over the propriety of the act, she called for evidence that animals in the circus are abused. Now, PETA has sent her a letter detailing the reams of citations for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act and the penalties assessed against Carson & Barnes Circus, the notorious outfit that supplied the elephants for the Shrine-sponsored event.

“The circus’s deplorable history of hurting and exploiting animals is all in the public record,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “If Darlene Harris is the animal advocate she claims to be, she should support efforts underway in Pittsburgh to ban cruel animal acts—not condone cruelty by riding an elephant.”

Carson & Barnes’ head trainer was caught on video attacking elephants with a bullhook and an electric prod while they screamed. Another handler with the circus was caught on video using the sharp tip of a bullhook to force an elephant’s head down while swearing at her. The same handler was caught hooking an elephant when she attacked another elephant in a circus ring after he lost control of the animals. Other violations by Carson & Barnes include repeatedly failing to identify, convey, or document treatment of veterinary problems in animals—including an elephant and a pygmy hippopotamus who wasted away until they died—and failing to provide elephants, including the one Harris rode, with adequate footcare, even though foot problems are the leading reason that captive elephants are euthanized.

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PETA’s letter to Harris follows.

April 13, 2017

Darlene Harris

District 1 Council Member

Pittsburgh City Council

Dear Ms. Harris,

I’m writing on behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide, including thousands in Pittsburgh, in response to your request for proof of abuse at the Shrine circus. Our files are bursting with reports of cruelty, animal-welfare violations, and other problems. I hope that after learning the facts, you will reconsider your support of circuses that force animals to perform and apologize for promoting the cruelty inherent in using animals for entertainment.

Traci, the elephant you rode recently, was leased from Carson & Barnes Circus, a notorious animal abuser with repeated violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Its laundry list of offenses includes failing to provide animals with minimum space and clean water and failing to identify, convey, or document treatment of veterinary care for several animals, including an elephant who has since died.

You may not realize that elephants do not give rides willingly. They must be violently “broken” first. Tim Frisco, Carson & Barnes’ animal-care director, was videotaped viciously attacking elephants with heavy steel-tipped bullhooks and electric prods and instructing trainers to sink the bullhooks into the animals’ flesh and twist them until the elephants scream in pain.

Carson & Barnes also has an alarming record of endangering the public. Last year, it was ordered to pay a $16,000 fine to settle an AWA lawsuit after three elephants became frightened, escaped from a performance, and ran amok for nearly an hour. In 2011, a federal inspector saw a circus employee exchanging money with a coworker while the elephant he was supposed to be controlling walked away with passengers in the saddle.

As you know, last year, City Council President Bruce A. Kraus introduced legislation to ban animals from being bred, caged, trained, and transported for entertainment in Pittsburgh. We urge you to consider supporting this legislation, which would spare animals so much suffering.


John Di Leonardo, M.S.

Senior Campaigner, Animals in Entertainment

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

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