The city council voted unanimously to allow a circus to operate at the Cumberland Fairgrounds this summer, despite concerns from some councilors about how Garden Bros Nuclear Circus allegedly treats its animals.
At the April 11 meeting, when the permit was granted for 10 Garden Bros shows from June 30 to July 3, some advisers referred to the circus’ poor rating from the Better Business Bureau – 1.75 stars out of a possible five – and its 57 negative reviews out of a total. of 75 posted on the BBB website. Eleven of 75 critics gave the circus five stars.
Many of the 57 one-star reviews focused on what customers perceived as high food prices, performers’ “inappropriate attire”, problems getting refunds and other issues, but 15 cited the mistreatment of animals, including performers repeatedly cracking whips and spooking horses. , dogs biting their masters and animals forced to perform in the heat of summer.
Councilors said that under the city’s mass gatherings ordinance, they could not consider the treatment of animals when deciding whether to grant the permit, only health and safety. general community safety.
“(When I looked at some of the Better Business Bureau reviews, even the way they treated certain customers, not just animals, I would say they’re less than stellar reviews,” adviser Allison Foster said. had questionable actions by this entity and its business practices.”
“Personally, as an advisor, I can’t look at this app and say there’s something wrong with the app,” Foster said.
Councilor Shirley Storey-King said the BBB rating was also ‘raised flags’ for her and she feared the circus could potentially take advantage of the fairgrounds.
Florida-based Garden Bros Circus did not respond to multiple phone and email requests for comment.
The Maine Animal Coalition, a Portland-based group that advocates for the elimination of animal abuse and exploitation, opposes all circuses that use animals in their shows, President Beth Gallie said.
“I understand Garden Bros Circuses uses horses, ponies, camels and dogs,” Gallie said. “It cannot be good for horses, ponies and camels to be driven from state to state to perform tricks in front of the public day after day. Such behavior is not natural behavior for animals. Most often, compliance is achieved through force and intimidation.
Garden Bros Nuclear Circus performances include backflipping dogs and a children’s entertainment area with camel rides and a pony, as well as juggling and Olympic gymnasts, according to gardenbrosnuclearcircus.com.
Garden Bros. was banned from using animals in its shows last May, in Norfolk, Va., after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alerted the city’s Animal Welfare Unit to the circus’ plans in that sense, according to a press release from PETA. A Norfolk city ordinance requires traveling animal shows to obtain a permit at least 30 days before the event.
Lyle Merrifield, president of the Cumberland Farmers Club, the nonprofit that owns the fairgrounds and sponsors the annual Cumberland Fair, said there were a ‘limited number of animals’ in circus shows and that the club was impressed with the organization.
“Certainly the Farmers Club is not going to aid or promote anything like cruelty to animals. If something didn’t seem right to us, we would address it immediately,” Merrifield said during the board meeting.
“I do not promote this company. They approached us, crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s. They immediately impressed us because we didn’t have to ask for a lot of other material,” he said.
After a discussion between councilors and Merrifield, the board expressed confidence in the club’s judgement.
“If there are broader discussions about what the role of an animal control officer, or council, should be in terms of protecting animal rights, we probably need to have that discussion as part of of a larger workshop,” said councilor Mark Segrist.
“Better Business Bureau aside, I don’t see that (Garden Bros Circus) didn’t check the appropriate boxes,” Segrist said.
Councilor Michael Edes said the council’s job is “to approve or not approve the permit”, and those who do not approve the event should simply not attend. Edes also said that reviews can be left by anyone and are not always a reliable source or information.
The Garden Bros Nuclear Circus will be held from June 30 to July 3, with two 100-minute performances on Thursday and Friday and three on Saturday and Sunday.