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K Street Files: Protesting the Circus

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is in town, and so are animal-rights activists who are planning demonstrations outside of the Verizon Center starting today.

The wild animals on the circus circuit suffer from “confinement, physical and social deprivation, arduous journeys, brutal control methods and physical violence,” said a press release from the group Animal Defenders International.

But Ryan Henning, the circus’ assistant animal superintendent, said the animals receive the highest level of care “24-7.”

“We always invite everybody to come and see the show, up close and personal with the animals,” Henning said. “They can see how well all the animals are cared for.”

Animal Defenders International is also using the show as an opportunity to promote legislation, known as the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, sponsored by Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.).That bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit animals from participating in traveling circus acts.

The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry.

“Animal Defenders International applauds Congressmen Jim Moran and Bill Young for introducing the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act,” said Matt Rossell, ADI’s campaigns director, in a press statement. “Keeping elephants in chains, confining wild animals like lions and tigers in small cages, and using physical violence to make them perform unnatural tricks for the sole purpose of human amusement is increasingly difficult to justify.”

Henning, however, said activists such as Rossell focus on Ringling Bros. to maximize attention for their cause.

“We do dedicate our lives … to taking care of these animals. They’re like our family members,” said Henning, who noted that the circus will be at the Verizon Center through Sunday and then on to Baltimore for two weeks and then to Fairfax, Va. “The extremists just like to focus on us to get attention going after the greatest show on earth.”

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