By Lynne Hayes-Freeland

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — City Council has approved a bill banning handlers from using devices like prods, whips and bull-hooks on any wild or exotic animals.

Tuesday afternoon’s meeting was packed for the vote, which City Council says positions Pittsburgh to be forward-thinking. However, opponents of the measure disagree.

They came in costumes, wearing shiny Shriners’ hats, one person was even carrying a bull-hook.

They were all hoping to make a point before City Council’s final vote on the “tools” animal handlers can use within the city limits. Speakers included representatives from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and the Shriner Circus.

“What we wanted to do is we actually wanted to strengthen the bill. We wanted to include the word improper use of any tool that might inflict pain on any animal,” said Dr. Barbara Baker, of the Pittsburgh Zoo.

But, Dr. Brian Bonsteel, of Humane Action of Pittsburgh, says, “There is no proper way to use a bull hook.”

The legislation on the table Tuesday, was a revision of a revision. The final version makes it unlawful to use bull-hooks, prods, hacksaws, baseball bats, pitchforks or other instruments that can inflict pain, intimidate or threaten pain for the purposes of training or controlling wild or exotic animals.

After discussion, the bill passed with six yes votes to three no votes.

Emotions ran high afterwards with a circus representative yelling out: “You hate kids. You hate kids.”

“This is not an intent as might have been offered up to harm circuses in any way, not an attempt to harm our zoo in any way,” said City Council President Bruce Kraus, who proposed the bill. “We believe that there are alternative methods that are well-known around the nation that many circuses and zoos are using to train their animals.”

Exactly how the new law will affect events like the Shrine Circus or operations at the zoo are still up in the air; but it’s clear, it won’t be business as usual.

“Obviously, the Shrine Circus is very shocked and saddened that Pittsburgh City Council took measures today that will effectively end the Shrine Circus as we know it,” said Paul Leavy, of the Shrine Circus.

Mayor Bill Peduto has 10 days to review the bill and sign off on it, so any changes won’t take effect until after the New Year.

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