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Asheville masses plead for animal rights

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By Leslee Kulba-The second week into Child Abuse Prevention Month, it was Asheville City Council’s turn to issue a proclamation. In fact, council proclaimed it Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, Fair Housing Month, Week of the Young Child, and National Volunteer Week as well.

Child Abuse Prevention Month is an attempt to try to motivate the sleeping masses to do something about human trafficking, to give a voice to the innocent little kids who are tortured and exploited for cheap thrills. The numbers are the same as they were last week. The only difference was Bill McGuire, executive director of Child Abuse Prevention Services, thought he had lost his notes, only to find they were on the back of a hiking promotion.

Nobody from the public bothered to show up to plead for the pathetically battered children. What could they say that would change anything? Instead, the big item of discussion was stirred by thirty or so members of the public who filed into the meeting with tiny “AVA” flags.

AVA stands for Asheville Voice for Animals. Members advocate for animal rights and animal welfare, and they tend to be vegans. As an example of what they do, while the Cowz were picketing at the new Chick-fil-A on Merrimon Avenue to get you to eat mor chikin, AVA was picketing the Cowz.

Tuesday evening, members gathered for an event that had been planned well in advance. Animal rights supporters came before council to request a citywide ban on exotic circus animals. In particular, they wanted the city to stop hosting the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, which is scheduled to run at the US Cellular Center from May 8-11.

Lafayette Gregory, who organized the demonstration, presented council with a PowerPoint presentation. He showed photos of a cute baby elephant undergoing training for the circus. He was tied with ropes, and he was being prodded with bullhooks. Gregory told how animals are confined in cages, eaking out a miserable, unnatural existence of control and submission.

Besides being cooped up in train cars for 26-70 hours when the show is on the road; the animals are forced to do unnatural acts. Gregory showed a slide of the baby elephant learning to stand on its head. “All for our entertainment,” he said.

For those on council who may not have been softies when it comes to animal rights, Gregory told how the circus was not good for humans. He said animals can run amok. He mentioned a number of times that elephants may carry a strain of tuberculosis that is communicable to humans, but no regulator requires circus elephants to be tested for TB.

Gregory asked council to join the bandwagon of other communities that have banned the circus. He listed several from New York, California, and Florida. He said that last year the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey were fined $270,000 by the USDA for alleged mishandling of their animals. It was the most a circus had ever been fined in the United States.

Worst of all, aggression is aggression. Entertaining children with tortured animals sent the wrong message. He claimed an FBI study from the 1970s found serial killers had also tortured animals. He was followed by Robbie Coleman, who suggested the city should host a human circus, like Cirque du Soleil, instead.

Following public comment, council reacted. Gordon Smith said it was too soon for him to pick one side or the other. During the presentation, he had been fact-checking on his handheld device. He corrected Gregory, saying the circus had been fined in 2011, but he was also running into articles about a $9.3 million settlement paid to the circus by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

He further cautioned the group to refrain from the use of hyperbole, as it was discrediting their arguments. As a psychologist, he was quite aware that taking kids to the circus was not going to turn them into serial killers.

Cecil Bothwell was more supportive. He told how he had led protests against the circus at the Asheville Civic Center as far back as 1985. Mayor Esther Manheimer voiced concern about council expanding its powers to meddle in programming at the civic center; but Bothwell said council was already involved. He recently spearheaded initiatives to ban gun shows at the civic center and the WNC Ag Center.

Council also addressed public comment from Louise Heath and Marty Grist. The two ladies alleged the city had been using Roundup weed killer. The product, they said, contained Agent Orange, and it was being sold in spite of its manufacturer’s knowledge about harm to humans. City Manager Gary Jackson assured council that staff used all products in compliance with all pertinent regulations published by the state. Regardless, he would provide council with documentation of if and how the weed killer is used.

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