By Bob Allen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Supporters and opponents, including several circus clowns, of a controversial ordinance involving wild animals packed a Pittsburgh City Council meeting today to make their voices heard.

Two busloads of Shriners, including circus clowns, came to the City County Building on Tuesday to tell council members “the show must go on.”

“Sixty-seven years we’ve been down here and helping all the children. We need to save our circus. That’s what we’re looking to do, and going to do.”

Councilman Bruce Kraus has introduced an ordinance to ban wild and exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement within the city. He held a hearing today to get public input.

Supporters accuse circuses of mistreating animals.

“Elephants don’t stand on their heads and tigers don’t jump through flaming hoops because they enjoy it. They perform out of fear of what will happen to them if they don’t,” said Brian Bonsteel, of Humane Action Pittsburgh.

“Everybody knows that wild animals do not just jump through flaming hoops without being beaten to do so,” Mikael Jackson, who also supports the ordinance, said.

But Paul Leavy, with the Shriners, says 60,000 people attend the circus in Pittsburgh every year with proceeds helping to support 22 Shriners hospitals.

“The use of our animals is legal,” says Leavy. “The use of our animals is already regulated; it always has been, it always will be. And it’s punishable by law if we do something wrong and that should be too.”

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Dr. Barbara Baker, the CEO at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, says the ordinance is part of a radical effort by a national animal rights group.

“Their goal is to eliminate all animals used in entertainment,” said Dr. Baker, “and they will eventually come after your zoo, the most visited cultural attraction in Pittsburgh.”

Some opponents think the circus can have a negative impact on children.

“Children who watch these performances learn this is acceptable to force another living creature to do something that is stressful, and often, even painful as long as it serves the purpose of entertainment,” said Lindsey French, another supporter of the ordinance.

A date has not yet been set for when City Council will vote on the ordinance.

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