A Rochester ban on exotic animal performances doesn’t mean the circus won’t be coming to town in the future.
The Rochester City Council approved a ban on performances in city-owned or -operated facilities and grounds earlier this month. It’s a move that’s been applauded by animal protection advocates.
“This is a victorious end to a yearlong campaign led by Humane Society of the United States' humane policy volunteer leaders in Rochester,” the organization stated in a written comment on the ban, adding that a variety of cities have taken similar steps.
At the same time, council members have noted the resolution provides wiggle room for future performances in the city.
“There’s also other county-held properties or even privately owned places that could do a summer event with parking,” council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said.
Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos said the ban, which includes the county-owned and city-operated Graham Arena, can’t be extended to other properties, which would fall under state and federal guidelines.
“St. Paul has tried to do that, and state law does prohibit that,” he said of a potential citywide ban.
Additionally, the resolution was crafted to continue to allow the use of animals in education or conservation activities, such as those taking place at Quarry Hill Nature Center.
It also doesn't restrict performances by domesticated animals, such as dogs and horses.
Council members said the initial effort was a good and needed step.
“I have been an animal rights activist my whole life,” council member Mark Bransford said while initially recommending the ban last month. “It’s really important if we are a city of compassion to halt this practice of using a cattle prod to take a tiger through a flaming hoop.
“I think in society, there is no place for that.”
Mayo Civic Center and Graham Arena have been booked for circus acts in recent years, occasionally drawing protests related to animal acts.
Joe Ward, president of Experience Rochester, the nonprofit entity that oversees the Civic Center for the city, said he’s supportive of the ban.
“The city’s consciousness of this sensitive, yet necessary, legislation is a step in the right direction in the journey to finding appropriate environments for animals,” he said. “Over the last few years, the live entertainment industry has seen tremendous success with creating exciting and innovative productions without the involvement of wild and exotic animals.
“As a result, we won’t skip a beat in pursuit of delivering a full live entertainment lineup for guests coming to the Mayo Civic Center when we reopen later in 2021 to large group entertainment.”
The last scheduled circus at the Civic Center was the Sarasota, Fla.,-based Garden Bros. Circus in 2019. But the Carden International Circus was slated to perform at Graham Arena on March 31 and April 1 this year. The event was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loos said the ban wouldn’t have had an effect on the Carden Circus, since it doesn’t involve exotic animal performances.