Government officials promise to oversee Port St. Lucie circus
By Marsha Branch
Posted November 1, 2012
PORT ST. LUCIE — Cole Bros. Circus has brought its act to St. Lucie County for seven years and is gearing up for another visit Nov. 15-18, but this time it's amidst some controversy.
Fort Pierce resident Jen Feuerstein, who appealed to the government to reject the circus, objects to its use of elephants and tigers in its acts because, she claims, the training methods are cruel and the exotic animals could pose a threat to public safety if any escaped or went berserk, as has happened.
Feuerstein said she specifically objects to elephant trainer Tim Frisco because of his training methods and safety record.
"There is (YouTube) video of the elephant trainer beating elephants and telling other elephant trainers to use abusive techniques," she said. "He is actually quoted as saying make them [the elephants] scream."
She also cited a 1992 Palm Bay case in which an elephant in Frisco's care, with a different circus, had to be shot and killed after it went on a rampage while a woman and four children were riding in a howdah on its back.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited Cole Bros. for animal rights violations and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed complaints against the circus.
St. Lucie County Commission Chairman Chris Dzadovsky also is opposed to the circus bringing its animal act to Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie, but he was outvoted 4-1 in an informal vote on the matter in October.
Commissioner Chris Craft said the board was notified of Cole Bros.' previous fines, but the county has no jurisdiction over the circus. By leasing the county-owned stadium to the circus, however, the county can implement an oversight process to ensure the animals' well-being, he said.
"If we do it right, we can actually set the standards for things happening in the future in particular communities that the circus may go to," Craft said. "If we don't allow them to lease the county's property for this event, they could very well put it on private property and we'd have no oversight, other than what is outlined by the state."
Port St. Lucie also issued a permit, because the stadium is in city limits. Animal Control supervisor Bryan Lloyd said the circus' previous fines did not influence the city's decision, but certain requirements must be met.
"Nothing in our ordinance specifies that we do any kind of backtracking for other locations," Lloyd said. "The ordinance just states that they have to have liability insurance, a current inspection certificate from the USDA and a veterinarian that actually has some experience with wildlife or captive wildlife."
City and county officials will be on location when the circus arrives, Lloyd said, to ensure the animals are not being abused and their basic needs — water, food and shelter — are being met.