Controversy, confusion await Loomis Bros. Circus in Cullman

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The Loomis Bros. Circus, which will be at the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center Jan. 31-Feb. 2, uses this image of an elephant in its marketing materials. (Image courtesy of Loomis Bros. Circus)

CULLMAN, Ala. – When the Loomis Bros. Circus rolls into Cullman next week, some parts of it may have to keep on rolling, but it depends on who you ask. According to Cullman County Parks and Recreation (CCPR) Director Doug Davenport, there will be no elephants used in the circus’ performances at the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center, while Loomis Bros. representatives insist that there will be.

On Jan. 13, CCPR posted a Loomis Bros. advertisement on its Facebook page, inviting Cullmanites to “See All the Classic Circus Favorites Including Elephants, Tigers, Daredevils, Ponies, a LIVE Circus Band & MUCH MORE!”

During a work session before the Cullman County Commission meeting the following morning, Davenport told the commissioners that Loomis would not bring elephants to its Cullman show, and that their exclusion was specified in the contract between the County and the circus, saying, “That’s the same circus we’ve had the last- ever since we’ve been involved with the Ag Center. They are coming back and the contract is pretty much the same as it was, just not bringing any elephants. (It’s a) stipulation like we had last year about the lions- make sure they had an enclosure there. That’s the only things I was concerned about.”

At the same time, Loomis Bros. advertisements and online event notices said the elephants would be coming. The circus’ list of upcoming events posting for Cullman reads, “Experience Classic Circus When America’s Premier Traveling 3-Ring Circus Returns With Their All-New 2020 Classic Circus Tour! You’ll See Elephants, Clowns, Acrobats, Live Music, Daredevils, White Ponies, Tigers and Much More!”

The Tribune contacted Loomis Bros. Circus Jan. 15 to ask if the Cullman shows would include elephants, and a circus representative responded, “We absolutely will have them.”

As recently as Jan. 22, CCPR posted on its Facebook page an updated Loomis Bros. ad which read, in part, “The New 2020 ‘Classic Circus Tour’ features all your circus favorites along with lots of new surprises! See Elephants, Tigers, Motorcycle Daredevils, Ponies, a LIVE Circus Band & MUCH MORE.”

PETA weighs in

On Thursday, Jan. 23, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent the following letter to Davenport:

Dear Mr. Davenport,

I’m writing on behalf of PETA and its more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide to urge Cullman County to exercise compassion by barring the Loomis Bros. Circus from exploiting elephants, tigers, and other animals at its upcoming Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center performances.

About two years ago, an ailing elephant named Nosey captured Alabamans’ hearts when authorities in Lawrence County seized her from a cruel traveling circus. Veterinarians at the sanctuary that accepted her found that she was suffering from arthritis and infection. She was dehydrated and underfed, and her muscles were weak. Many of her ailments had existed for years, yet the circus perpetually shackled her in chains, trucked her across the country, and forced her to give rides and perform tricks under the threat of punishment. Those in positions of power—the circus, authorities, venues, and her own veterinarian—ignored her suffering. Just days before Nosey was seized, she was forced to give rides in a Cullman parking lot. One local paper (The Cullman Tribune) noted that she brought “more ‘whys’ than ‘wows.'”

Cullman can take a stand for animals like Nosey by ensuring that Loomis Bros. performs without any at your venue. Brian Franzen, who usually provides the animal acts, has a well-documented history of cruelty. Federal regulators disciplined him when a trainer was caught beating an elephant in the face with a bullhook (a weapon so cruel it’s been banned in two states and many cities). He was also filmed striking an elephant named Megu in the jaw with a bullhook onstage, jabbing an elephant with a prod during rides, and whipping a tiger in the face.

Franzen uses the same veterinarian who allowed Nosey to perform and never properly diagnosed or treated her painful arthritis and other diseases. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Franzen for failing to notice that Megu had an abnormal gait and cracking joints. His vet was also apparently unaware of her condition. Yet—like Nosey—Megu’s gait problems have been evident and ignored for years, even after an expert wrote that forcing her to perform in circus shows was causing her “undue and unnecessary physical distress.”

The circus should be fun for everyone, but it’s torture for the tiger forced to jump through fire and the elephant forced to balance on a ball. When animals are used as props for entertainment, their well-being will always be sacrificed. PETA urges Cullman to promote kindness by ensuring that the Loomis Bros. shows at your venue are animal-free. Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

Rachel Mathews, Esq.

Deputy Director | Captive Animal Law Enforcement

Loomis Bros. representative responds; Davenport firm

After the PETA letter was sent, The Tribune reached out once more to both Loomis Bros. and Davenport.

On Friday, Erik Scott, director of business, media and talent relations for Loomis Bros., sent The Tribune two notes, the first of which read, “We absolutely will have elephants and tigers, dogs and ponies.”

In the second note Scott responded to the PETA complaint, writing, “Our legal is investigating the situation as we do NOT use any weapons on our animals and these claims are outrageous.  Everything we do with regards to our animals is regulated by the government and we meet and often exceed these requirements.”

Davenport, on the other hand, reiterated his position that the Cullman shows will not include elephants, saying, “They’re not to bring the elephants. Their poster’s got it on there, but that’s just a universal poster that just has each of their locations on it. But there are not going to be (any) elephants there. You know, there’ll be the tigers, and I think they use some dogs for tricks, and some horses and that nature, but no elephants.”

Davenport reaffirmed his statement to the commission that the County’s contract with Loomis Bros. specifies no elephants.

When he was informed that a Loomis Bros. representative had said earlier in the day that there would be elephants at the Cullman shows, Davenport responded, “No, there won’t, either. I talked to them this morning, as well. So yeah, there won’t be (any) elephants there. It’s just like any other contract: something that’s not in there’s not going to be allowed. There may be some in a truck that they’ve got, but as far as elephants there performing- because I think they’re coming from Huntsville to Cullman, and they did use elephants there. I don’t know if they’ll just forward those on to their next show or if they’ll just be on the truck, but there won’t be (any) elephants performing at the Ag Center.”

The Loomis Bros. Circus will be at the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center Jan. 31-Feb. 2.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com