Circus gets nod, despite protests in Wilmette
Ray Lechner rides an elephant at the beginning of the Kelly Miller Circus perfomance in Wilmette in 2008. | File photo
WHO: Kelly Miller Circus
WHY: As education fundraiser, despite protests from animal rights activists
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:30AM
WILMETTE — The Kelly Miller Circus will return to Wilmette this September as part of a Wilmette District 39 Educational Foundation fundraiser, despite objections from residents who say the village shouldn’t condone the use of wild animals, especially elephants, as entertainment.
Wilmette trustees granted the foundation’s special use permit request at a meeting June 26, agreeing with village attorney Michael Zimmerman that the permit was purely a land use issue, and not connected with the suitability of animal use in circuses.
Nor does the village’s animal control act cover circuses, Zimmerman said.
That meant the board had to focus on whether bringing the small circus for a one-day event on school district land near its Locust Road headquarters would negatively impact neighbors, Trustee Alan Swanson said. He was satisfied that it wouldn’t, he said.
What’s more, Swanson told the audience, “I’m sufficiently convinced of the fact that this is a closely regulated operation. It doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but it does mean they’re closely regulated.”
The foundation has brought the circus in as a fundraiser five previous times on a biannual basis, the last time in 2010. And, as she has on prior occasions, Isabella Street resident Valerie Chalcraft begged the trustees not to approve the permit.
Chalcraft, an animal behaviorist, said trustees should consider the cruelty of elephant training – using bullhooks that leave scars on ears and legs, and chaining the animals – as well as the stress that circus animals undergo. Circus animals also represent a danger to onlookers and trainers, she said.
She noted that last year, three Kelly Miller circus tigers escaped their enclosures, and that the federal agriculture department had previously cited the organization for having rusty cages. She told board President Chris Canning she’d attended the circus and seen wounds and chains on elephants, although she acknowledged that she hadn’t seen elephants being wounded while in Wilmette.
Chalcraft was one of several village residents who wrote the village to protest the circus. Another, Greenleaf Avenue resident Virginia Grossman, also spoke at the meeting. The former school psychologist said opponents’ issues were not specifically with the Kelly Miller operation, “but with this type of archaic entertainment.”
Foundation representative Tracy Kearney assured the board that they had thoroughly checked out the circus, including the way it treats its animals. Its elephants are not chained, she said, and they don’t perform every year: Instead, the animals spend off years at a 400 acre Oklahoma facility.
However Kearney promised to check to see if it was bringing tigers to the Wilmette performance, since Trustee Bob Bielinski noted that the list of animals in the request didn’t include them.