A newly formed group opposed to the use of animals in circuses is planning a series of protests during the 66th Annual Al Bedoo Shrine Circus in Billings.
Montanans Against Animal Circuses is planning its main protest for noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, at the Shrine Auditorium, 1125 Broadwater Ave., but it intends to have at least some protesters at each of the nine shows scheduled for March 29 through April 2.
Jeff Blatnik, one of the organizers of the MAAC, said the group is not affiliated with any other organization and is made up entirely of Montanans.
“We’re just a local group,” he said. “I want everything to stay grassroots. I’ve lived here all my life.”
Blatnick, an analytical chemist with an environmental laboratory in Billings, said he and others have protested in the past during the Shrine circus, but this year they decided to get more organized, to emphasize that they are all Montanans, not out-of-state protesters.
He also said he wanted to make it clear that they are not accusing the local Shrine of abusing animals, but that the company the Shrine contracts with, Jordan World Circus, does engage in objectionable animal practices.
Promotional material for the Al Bedoo Shrine says the circus will include elephants, tigers, bears and poodles.
Blatnick said the MAAC focuses on elephants because of the size of the animals, the confined spaces they are kept in, the fact that they are often chained by the leg and because “they display these obvious emotional responses to being held captive.”
“The other animals, of course, go through the same things,” he added. “They have to ride around in trucks for weeks and weeks, too.”
Wally Hall, the Al Bedoo Shrine potentate, asked whether there has been any discussion of discontinuing the use of animals in the local circus, said only that the Shrine contracts with Jordan World Circus, “and they use elephants.” He said he would have no further comment.
The Missoula City Council voted to ban the use of wild and exotic animals in shows and non-educational displays in 2015, but because the 2016 circus was already under contract, postponed the effective date of the ordinance to allow one last show featuring wild animals.
Blatnick said he sent a press release announcing the planned protests to the local Shrine, but otherwise he hasn’t been in contact with anyone there. After this year’s circus, he said, he hopes to work with the Shrine to end the use of animals in the circus and to develop other fundraising events.
“We love the Shrine and we want to support them,” he said. “It’s hard to do when they use animals. We want to work with them in finding better ways to raise money in the community.”
In the press release, the MAAC said animals used in circuses are “beaten, shocked, and whipped to make they perform—over and over again—tricks that make no sense to them.” It also said that the tools used during circus acts, including whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods and bull hooks, “are reminders that the animals are being forced to perform.”
The press release also said that Bill Cunningham, who produces Shrine circuses in 100 U.S. cities, is no longer using wild animals in his shows and has called on other Shrine circuses to follow his lead.
Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, used elephants in its show for the last time in May 2016, two years earlier than it had previously announced it would retire the animals.