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Circus rouses controversy over treatment of animals

11:50 PM, Feb 22, 2013   |    comments
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The circus might be the hottest ticket in town this weekend.

But if you're going to the Ringling Brothers performance at the Civic Coliseum on Saturday, you may get more of a spectacle than you bargained for.

According to a Facebook page, protestors intend to set up across the street for every performance.

"We feel like that a lot of people would not choose to go to the circus if they knew what was really going on behind the scenes under the big top," says Jennifer Wood, who's protested the circus coming to Knoxville for seven years.

But what does go on under the big top?

Humane training and quality medical care, if you ask Ringling Veterinary Technician Jessica Clowers.

"We all love our animals and most of our animals have grown up with our trainers," says Clowers. "They're just really happy. All of our animals are just really thriving in our care."

But some say not all the animals.

In a 2011 lawsuit, the USDA accused the circus of violating the Animal Welfare Act over a four-year period.

The circus' parent company didn't admit any wrongdoing, but agreed to settle the case for $270,000.

More recently though, the circus came out on top.

The company settled a case against the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, alleging that the ASPCA used illegal tactics when suing the circus for elephant abuse.

The ASPCA settled the case for $9.3 million, but in a statement said the payment reflected the desire to end a costly legal battle, not a vindication of the circus' treatment of its elephants.

"What we want people to know is that when they support the circus, by coming out here and buying tickets and spending money, they're supporting animal cruelty," says Wood.

"We all love our animals treat them like they're part of the family," says Clowers.

So for today, it all depends on who you ask.

The only ones who won't weigh in are the stars of the show.

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