EAST LIVERPOOL - The circus coming to town is: a) harmless entertainment for the young and old, b) a fund-raising opportunity for civic organizations, c) a source of consternation for animal-rights activists, d) all of the above.
The answer, Brian Vaughn learned recently, is: d) all of the above.
Modern reactions to the circus vary widely, but Vaughn, president of the East Liverpool Area Jaycees, wants to keep the focus on fun and fund-raising.
The Jaycees are bringing the Carson & Barnes Circus to Westgate Middle School, 810 W. Eighth St., for two shows on Tuesday - one at 4:30 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m.
"We were pretty amped up about the idea because it's something different," Vaughn said. "We never did anything like this before. A lot of people know us from our haunted house, which is our biggest fund-raiser."
Vaughn said circus officials told him the sponsoring organization can raise anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on ticket sales. "We would love to see that $10,000," he said.
Carson & Barnes, headquartered in Hugo, Okla., is on the first leg of a July tour through Ohio. Shows are two hours long and feature acts by elephants, horses and other trained animals, as well as stunts by clowns, high-wire artists and other performers.
Vaughn said he learned about Carson & Barnes after the circus contacted the East Liverpool Area Chamber of Commerce, asking for civic organizations willing to sponsor the circus as a fund-raiser.
"They do a different route every year, so they try to plan stops accordingly," he said.
Soon after he signed up the Jaycees as sponsor, Vaughn said he started getting e-mails from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The animal-rights group is a frequent critic of Carson & Barnes and other organizations that keep and train animals in captivity.
PETA sent a letter to Vaughn, Westgate Principal Linda Henderson and East Liverpool Superintendent James Herring dated June 28, asking them to cancel the shows. The letter alleges that Carson & Barnes abuses its animals, including elephants, and uses violent training methods.
Carson & Barnes is licensed as a Class C Exhibitor by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. As such, it is subject to regular inspections by USDA veterinarians.
Inspection reports available at the USDA Web site show inspections as recently as April and going back to 2009. Most reports reflect compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, but eight of the 31 reports show violations, mostly in the categories of housing facilities and the handling of animals during public exhibition.
Vaughn said he checked references provided to him by Carson & Barnes, as well as previous sponsors of circus events. "With their experience and the overall appearance of the animals, I haven't heard any complaints," he said.
Henderson deferred questions to the Jaycees but said, "We don't want any animal hurt on our property."
Proceeds from ticket sales will help the Jaycees with projects they support throughout the year, including Special Olympics, community cleanups, Relay for Life, and holiday assistance for needy families, Vaughn said.
General admission tickets are $6 in advance for children under 12 and $14 in advance for adults. Tickets sold at the gate are $2 more.
The Jaycees are selling tickets today and Tuesday at their office at 620 St. Clair Ave., next door to the fire department and across the street from Roe Carpet & Vinyl.