By Jon Delano

Follow KDKA-TV: Facebook | Twitter

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For 68 years, the Shrine Circus with animals has come to Pittsburgh, delighting kids and parents alike.

Its 69th appearance is set for mid-September at PPG Paints Arena, but certain animal rights groups want all circuses with animals banned.

“There’s no way to have a humane circus,” Natalie Ahwesh, vice president of Humane Action Pittsburgh, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday. “These animals are abused, especially during training sessions where there are no monitors.”

Humane Action Pittsburgh, along with PETA, convinced six Pittsburgh city council to ban certain control instruments used with the animals, like bullhooks for elephants.

“Bullhooks were designed for nothing but inflicting pain on an animal, and those in the industry sometimes like to call them a guide, but a sharp-pointed hook is an instrument of pain,” said Ahwesh.

“Very rarely is the bullhook used, but it is required to be on hand,” said Paul Leavy, a Shrine Circus organizer since 1993. “That tool is designed to simply control the elephant should it decide to stray away, but we don’t have those problems normally.”

Leavy says the Shriners do not abuse animals.

“We do our part and have done our part for the past 68 years here in Pittsburgh to make sure the animals that we use are protected. We are true believers in animal welfare. We just have a different way of showing it. We actually take care of the animals,” said Leavy.

The Shriners say that Pittsburgh’s new ordinance essentially bans circuses with animals.

Why? Because it really prohibits the use of certain instruments necessary to control the animals, which the Shriners say are important for public safety.

This September’s circus is on because Judge Joseph James stayed the law while he reviews its legality.

The judge did appoint a veterinarian and a humane officer to monitor animal safety at the circus, but animal rights groups question their credentials.

So will there be a 70th Shrine Circus next year?

“The courts will decide that,” says Leavy.