Popcorn, peanuts and a protest


The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is coming to the Covelli Centre on March 30, and members of the Youngstown State University Environmental and Animal Rights Coalition aren’t the least bit amused.

Through the use of compelling images, members of the YSEARC and a Mahoning County vegetarian group will protest animal abuse outside of the Covelli Centre. 

“These animals have chains on their legs, and how would you feel if you were chained, caged and taken from your family?” YSEARC President Julie Plesich said. “A lot of these elephants are taken out of their natural environment.” 

Plesich said the YSEARC believes animals should not be eaten, worn or used for experimentation, exploitation or, in the case of the circus, entertainment.

Ringling Bros. has an animal care policy that states the animal routines showcase their physical abilities, beauty and distinctive behavior. 

“Verbal or physical abuse and the withholding of food or water are strictly prohibited,” their website reads.

But Plesich said Ringling Bros. has been fined multiple times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“Ringling paid $20,000 to settle USDA charges of failing to provide veterinary care to a dying baby elephant,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals reported.

“I have pages and pages of infractions that have been brought against Ringling Bros. and other companies that date back to 1993,” Plesich said. 

Attempts to reach Ringling Bros. on Tuesday by phone and email were unsuccessful.  

Plesich said the problem lies with the people who continue to attend the circus.

She said Ringling Bros. has hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from the USDA, but when people attend the circus, it allows them to pay their fines and continue selling tickets.

“It’s very disturbing,” Plesich said.

YSU freshman Stefani Stubbs worked at the Covelli Centre last year when the circus was in town, and said she enjoyed the show.

“The circus doesn’t bother me,” she said. “The animals don’t seem like they’re being hurt.”

Kelsey Rupert, Covelli Centre director of marketing and sales, said that, although the circus brings in record numbers for Youngstown, the Covelli Centre anticipates the protests and will have 24-hour security because of the animal compound.

“They are entitled to a peaceful protest, and most years it’s been peaceful,” Rupert said. “It’s never gotten out of hand.”

Lisa Pirock, a member of a Mahoning County vegetarian group, will join the protest.

“We just want to educate people to stop going to the circus,” Pirock said. “Elephants are supposed to walk 30 miles a day in a normal habitat.”

Plesich, who met Pirock at last year’s circus protest, said they plan to use images and signs without scaring children who attend. She said they hand out coloring books and stickers to kids and give out adult-friendly information to others.

According to the Ringling Bros. website, they welcome regulation because it protects the well-being of animals, but don’t believe that banning animal performances is the answer.

“We believe that these bans are unnecessary and take away a treasured part of the circus experience that patrons tell us they support and love. By banning performing animals, the town is effectively saying that our experts are not fit to handle the animals they have devoted their lives to caring for. We can’t say it enough: Ringling Bros. loves animals as much as you do,” the website reads.

Plesich said alternatives to using animals in performance, like Cirque du Soleil, exist.

“They do fabulous tricks, and it’s entertaining without the use of animals,” she said. “They could do everything that they normally do, but just leave the animals alone.”

She said the opposition and animosity the protesters face sometimes bothers YSEARC members, but they remain adamant about the situation.

“To be honest, it’s something I feel strongly about, and all I’m trying to do is share information,” Plesich said. “People want to turn a blind eye, and it’s often very discouraging.”