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Austin Commission Votes to Ban Use of 'Painful Devices' on Circus Animals

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Nathan King/flickr

From the Austin Monitor: Before the Austin Animal Advisory Commission endorsed a proposed ordinance Wednesday banning the use of painful devices on circus animals, commissioners deliberated how the city should define a circus animal.

Members said the inclusion of lions, tigers and bears, plus other usual circus animals, was certainly right. However, Commissioner Babette Ellis worried that including horses and dogs might affect those animals traveling to the city for non-circus events, such as the upcoming Austin Kennel Club Dog Show.

The city, on the other hand, had an entirely different species in mind when it first drafted the ordinance. “I did call the city, and they said this should really concentrate on elephants,” said Ellis, referring to an original idea for the law, which officials have since expanded.

Commissioners first recommended that City Council prohibit the use of devices such as bullhooks, pitchforks and baseball bats on circus animals in June 2013. Once the city confirmed it had the legal right to issue such a ban, Council passed a resolution in November asking the commission to write up an ordinance.

The law passed Wednesday sets a minimum fine of $200 — something commissioners noted was a small amount after a citizen said that “a couple of hundred bucks” for potentially using a bullhook on an animal was too low. If Council approves the ordinance, Austin would join cities such as Tallahassee, Louisville and Los Angeles, all recent adopters of similar laws.

Getting to a motion was not simple. Ellis led the opposition Wednesday, sticking to her point that the measure was too inclusive of all species and that dogs and horses should have their own animal cruelty ordinance. “Those two do not necessarily belong with the rest,” she said.

Keeping them in this ordinance, Ellis argued, could grant the city control over animals at an event as seemingly benign as a dog parade.

However, Chair David Lundstedt said Ellis had misread the item. “I think that the definition of circus animal is very clear,” he said. Lundstedt explained that the ordinance does not prohibit the presentation of animals, be it circus, parade or dog show, but merely the treatment of them.

He said this law would never apply to someone simply walking their dog — unless, of course, “they are shocking them with electricity and they also refer to themselves as a circus.”

Ellis fell back on what the city’s legal team had told her earlier in the day. “They said ‘animal’ was up for interpretation,” she said.

After 10 minutes of discussion, Commissioner Larry Tucker called for a motion. The proposal passed 4-1, with Ellis saying “nay” because — as it turns out — the law includes animals that say “neigh.”