Circus animals are still allowed in Pittsburgh, and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon

Advocacy group Humane Action Pittsburgh is meeting with the mayor’s staff today — the first day of the Shrine Circus at PPG Paints Arena.

Shrine circus
Paula R. Lively / flickr
MJ Slaby

As is, a proposal to ban “the performance of wild or exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement” in Pittsburgh is effectively dead. 

“I just don’t have the votes to pass it,” City Council President Bruce Kraus, who proposed the ordinance last year, told The Incline this week.

But Kraus said he’ll continue to work with Humane Action Pittsburgh on the ordinance to see if there’s a way to update and pass the ordinance before the Dec. 31 deadline. 

Natalie Ahwesh, vice president of legislative affairs for Humane Action Pittsburgh, said the organization was surprised by the opposition during a May public hearing about the proposal and waned to give people time to cool off. She said the group has since met with about half of city council and is meeting with staff from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office today. That meeting is less about this particular ordinance and more about the group’s overall goals, she said.

“We have a vision to make Pittsburgh the most humane city,” she said, adding examples like the humane trapping of wildlife and promoting a plant-based diet through initiatives like Meatless Monday.

The proposed circus animal ban was introduced in May, and emotions ran high during a packed public hearing about the ordinance, as both sides spoke about the issue. In November, Neil Manganaro, chief of staff for Kraus, told The Incline work on the ordinance continued to accommodate requests from both sides and have a more sober and academic discussion.

If passed, the the legislation, as is written, would prohibit circus animals, such as the ones in the Shrine Circus, which is at PPG Paints Arena from today through Sunday. The rule drew a line between animals for “entertainment or amusement,” and animals for education, research and rehabilitative services, as well as animals from some accredited programs. It wouldn’t impact Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, The National Aviary or the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center.

“I think it’s a cultural shift we’re looking for,” Kraus said, adding that it’s about the morality of breeding and transporting animals for entertainment. Ahwesh agreed. “It’s not that we don’t want the circus. There’s just no room for animal abuse in the city,” she said.

During public meetings, representatives from both the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey and Shrine circuses repeatedly said they were already concerned about the animals’ well-being. Ringling announced in January that it would end its circuses next month, after retiring its elephants in 2016. The Shrine Circus didn’t return a a call for comment.

It shows that circus animals are “falling out of favor,” Ahwesh said. “There is no downside to protecting animals.”