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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Every spring since 2000, the Kelly Miller Circus has set up its big top in Olney for performances that have raised money used to benefit the community and support veterans. But that could change.
Bill 23-17, recently introduced by Montgomery County Councilmen Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) and George Leventhal (D-At large), could ban performing animals from traveling circuses.
“The closing of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which was driven by the concern for the way performing animals were treated, is a major driver behind this bill,” Rice said. “Ironically, animals in a large circus such as that one likely were treated better than the animals who are in much smaller circuses with less resources. There are dozens of those type of circuses that go around the country and set up in an empty parking lot.”
Councilmembers Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1), Marc Elrich (D-At large), Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 5), Sidney Katz (D-Dist. 3), Nancy Navarro (D-At large) and Hans Riemer (D-At large) are co-sponsors of the bill.
Halsey Smith, commander of American Legion Norman Price Post 68, which has sponsored the Kelly Miller visit in recent years, said the bill is a “shotgun approach” to eliminate all circuses, which “is overkill on the part of the county.”
The American Legion has sponsored the circus in Olney since 2011; prior to that, it was sponsored by the Olney Rotary Club.
It is the American Legion’s sole fundraiser, raising about $3,000 each year. The money goes to fund two scholarships for seniors at Sherwood High School, Our House residential job-training program in Brookeville, a youth camp in southern Maryland, and programs that support veterans.
“In our years of sponsorship, I am not aware of any legitimate complaint regarding the treatment of animals,” Smith said. “This action is a little unfair for something that has not been a problem.”
The law would ban a person or business from profiting by the exhibition of wild animals in a traveling animal act. Wild animals include chimpanzees, baboons, monkeys, lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, ocelots, wolves, coyotes, bears, kangaroos, elephants, crocodiles, alligators, snakes, hippopotamuses, rhinos, giraffes and camels.
Exempted from the law would be shows that showcase domestic animals that might be found at an exhibition such as a county or neighborhood fair. Exempted animals include dogs and cats, domestic cattle, swine, sheep, goats, domestic horses, donkeys or mules.
A program from this year’s Kelly Miller Circus performance in Olney on June 5 and 6 lists acts that included dogs, a zebra, a mule and two elephants.
According to the program, six members of the circus are employed strictly for the care, comfort and welfare of their animal partners. Every 30 days the animals are examined by veterinarians throughout the states in which they travel. They are also regulated and inspected frequently by the United States Department of Agriculture, state and local authorities.
Smith has voiced his opposition of the bill to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and several council members. He and several fellow American Legion members plan to testify at a public hearing tentatively scheduled (at The Greater Olney News press time) for 1:30 p.m. July 18.
Those unable to attend the tentatively scheduled July 18 public hearing can send written testimony to the Montgomery County Council at 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terri Hogan can be reached at email@example.com.
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