Cole Bros. to pay $15,000 settlement following PETA claims

When the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center opened in January 1999, one of the first events it hosted was the Cole Bros. Circus. More than 13 years later the circus is returning to town, but not without conflict connected with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The animal rights organization filed complaints against Cole Bros. with the U.S. Department of Agriculture two years ago. On Sept.24, the circus agreed to pay through a consent agreement $15,000 to the U.S. Treasury Department while admitting no guilt to allegations of animal cruelty.

“The USDA’s action against Cole Bros. should put all animal circuses on notice that, sooner or later, they must pay for animal abuse,” PETA Foundation of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Delcinna Winders said in printed statement. “Since children love animals the last place that parents and grandparents should take them is to the circus.”

Cole Bros. Vice President of Administration Renee Storey disagreed with Winders’ comment and said it only illustrates how PETA has an agenda and attempts to find data to support its arguments. “This is an ongoing battle with [PETA] and all circuses,” Storey said.

According to legal documents secured from both PETA and Cole Bros., a license termination request was filed against the circus by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA on Sept. 7, 2010. That request was denied.

PETA claimed during 2009 that two elephants, named Tina and Jewel, were found to be “hundreds of pounds underweight and had been deprived of veterinary care,” PETA spokesman David Perle said. According to Perle, the elephants were also allegedly sent to an unlicensed exhibitor with a history of Animal Welfare Act violations. Perle did not disclose the name of that exhibitor.

According to Storey, a detailed investigation found that the animals named in the complaint were determined to not be cases of neglect or abuse.

The circus executive said both elephants are approximately 50 years old. Storey said Jewel had lost weight and undergone multiple tests to find a cause. It was ultimately determined the animal suffered from an impacted molar that was connected to its symptoms. “The problem was corrected surgically,” Storey said.

Tina had previously been overweight and was placed on dietary restrictions by the veterinarian. “We were told not to overfeed her.” Storey said. “So for Tina to lose weight was a good thing.”

“As you know, I am an animal lover,” Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center Director Janel Ricca said. “The thing is, everybody has their opinion to express and I understand that.

“At the same time, I cannot discriminate or not book an event here because I might not like something someone is doing,” she added. “Unless someone is doing something illegal, I have an obligation to rent to them and fulfill our obligations.”

Ricca said once she heard of alleged problems with Cole Bros., she called venues where that specific circus had previously performed and found no complaints.

Perle listed 10 complaints regarding Cole Bros.’ care of elephants including “inadequate enclosures [and] handlers who lacked training.” He also claimed the circus was selling tigers without a dealer’s license. These charges could not be substantiated.

“There will always be people that have their opinions about circuses,” Ricca said. “I’ve heard nothing but excitement with [Cole Bros. coming to Houma]. When we have had circuses in the past we have had only positive responses.”

“We have always vigorously denied the charges,” Storey said. “PETA has made it clear that its philosophy is that any use of animals for any reason is wrong.”

Storey said Cole Bros. has a supervising veterinarian on staff that tends to animals so health problems were resolved. “If Jewel had been in the wild the problem would not have been corrected,” she said.

Ricca said she could not determine if PETA’s claims made against the circus would impact ticket sales or attendance. Cole Bros. has been contracted to rent one-half of Lot C at the Civic Center for two days. According to rate guidelines the circus will pay $2,000 for use of that space.

The Cole Bros. Circus was founded in 1884. Storey said the circus offers two to three daily shows 250 days of the year.

Cole Bros. will present its Houma performances on Oct. 22 and 23.

Four elephants were unharmed after a truck pulling their trailer ran off Interstate 10 in south Mississippi Sunday night. The animals belong to the Cole Bros. Circus and were being transported from Mobile, Ala., to a show location in Hammond, La., when accident occurred. The elephants were not injured and have been transported to their destination. The Cole Bros. circus is scheduled to be presented Oct. 22-23 outside the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center.