88th annual Hadi Shrine Circus draws criticism from animal rights activists

88th annual Hadi Shrine Circus draws criticism from animal rights activists
Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 6:32 PM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - As the Hadi Shriner Circus gears up for its 88th year, animal rights activists, like PETA’s Director of Captive Animal Welfare Debbie Metzler, are concerned for some of the talent.

“The Shriner’s pledge that they’re a philanthropic organization dedicated to compassion, and if that were true, they would distance themselves, and disassociate themselves, with the cruelty that is inherent in using animals in circuses,” says Metzler.

In years past, the Hadi Shriner circus hosted tigers and a variety of other exotic animals.

This year, the only animals that will be featured are some elephants, dogs and ponies.

Shriner’s Spokesman Dale Thomas says the change comes from fewer people being in the business of training and handling exotic animals, not outside pressures.

“Every year we go out, and we build our own circus. We don’t hire a circus,” says Thomas, “we pick and choose every act that we bring in here, so if an act doesn’t meet a certain standard, we don’t bring it in.”

Thomas says this way of doing things also ensures that all the animals in their show are well-cared for and not abused. Metzler says the issue runs deeper than that.

“The elephants who are used in this circus have been trained before they arrive in Evansville, and they’ve been beaten and abused into performing these confusing and painful tricks,” says Metzler, “so, all the handlers have to do is have a bullhook in their hand, and the elephants expect punishment.”

Thomas says he grew up around animals, and the Shriners are built on compassion.

He says each act and handler is hand-picked and vetted.

“They’re associating things that happened in the past with other circuses with us. It’s not true,” says Thomas, “I live down here for six days with these animals. I’ve never seen a hand raised to any of them.”

PETA says they will be protesting each show.

Thomas says they’re more than welcome to do so, but he hopes patrons will form their own opinions.

“The only thing I could say for people that want to come down here and have some fear, I can assure you, we’re Shriners. We put the same care and passion into choosing our acts, and making sure that they’re quality acts, that we do into taking care of the things we do as Shriners,” says Thomas.