Corbin woman says she doesn't regret solo protest against circus
A planned protest against Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus opening night performance in Corbin didn't materialize as first expected, but one local woman said she is glad she decided to go it alone anyway.
PETA, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, had originally planned to protest the Thursday night performance of the circus at the David L. Williams Southeast Kentucky Agriculture and Exposition Center. Only a single protester sat outside on the steps of the building holding a sign well after the show had already begun. Corbin Police Chief David Campbell said the group had not obtained proper permitting for demonstration, but that they planned to be at the facility for later shows. The circus performed in Corbin last Thursday through Sunday.
According to a press release sent to media outlets by PETA last Wednesday, protesters planned to be on site holding signs that say "Ringling Beats Animals." The group is a regular fixture at Ringling shows and is an outspoken critic of the way circuses treat animals that perform in their shows.
Only one protester, Marsha Gilbert, a Corbin resident and PETA member, showed.
"I think I peaked curiosities," Gilbert said. She protested during the Friday evening show of the circus, and during two showings Saturday.
"I may have made people stop and think, or at least wonder. It's human nature. I hope I got people wanting to look into this a little deeper."
Gilbert said she got into animal rights activism about a year ago when a tractor and trailer wrecked on I-75 near Jellico. The driver was traveling with his pet Rotweiler dog and it perished in the crash. The dog was simply left on the side of the road.
"I thought that was horrible," she said. "I contacted a radio show in Knoxville about it and then contacted PETA. I started looking at their website and got into this and just started to see some of the things that go on."
Gilbert said she knows her position on the issue may be unpopular in this area, but said overall circus goers didn't treat her rudely while she protested.
"Overall, I felt nobody was really terrible to me," she said. "I had nothing thrown at me or anything like that. I was questioned a few times. I did have a lot of negatives but I had some positives too. I just think the negatives were more vocal."
Gilbert said officials with The Arena would not let her protest on the facility's property, so she set up along the roadway leading up to the site. She did hand out some informational leaflets to those who were curious.
Tom Crane, a retired military veteran from Louisville, who was to serve as the main organizer of the planned Corbin protest, said Ringling uses brutal and cruel methods, particularly on its elephants, to get them to perform the tricks the public sees. He said numerous undercover videos and former accounts of circus employees detail how animal trainers beat and harm the animals with a device called a bullhook to get them to obey. He points to a current federal court case, the verdict of which is being mulled by a judge, regarding allegations the circus has violated the Endangered Species Act. Crane was in Corbin on Thursday but quickly left and did not participate in the protest.
"They are trained to do a certain job, and if they don't perform they are abused," Crane said. "It's a painful situation for these animals to endure. My main purpose is to educate. I think people want a circus, but they don't understand what is really going on when they go to a circus. We want to open their eyes and show them it's a gimmick."
Jason Gibson, Production Manager for Ringling Bros. Gold unit, which stopped in Corbin last week, calls the protests "nothing new" and calls the allegations "totally false."
"They are so misinformed about what we do here," he said. "We have millions of people that come to see our shows every year and they see it firsthand how beautiful and healthy and vibrant our animals are."
Gibson said animal handlers do not beat or abuse the elephants, tigers and other animals that perform in the circus, but rather teach the animals through repetition and positive reinforcement.
"Every animal we have is part of our family and we treat them that way," Gibson said. "We know we are doing a good job. These animals are part of the integral fabric of our show and they are very important to us. We have to take care of them and we do."
Gibson said the circus has all the proper permits for the animals and is open to inspection any time by authorities. He said all of the animals get daily exercise, plenty of food and are kept clean and healthy. Elephants are bathed once a day and get weekly pedicures. The circus has 24 hour a day veterinary care available if needed.
Gibson said many of the "tricks" the animals perform, particularly the elephants, are derived from behaviors that have been observed in the wild, and then incorporated into the show.
Ringling has a center for elephant conservation in Florida where retired elephants go. The center also specializes in breeding and research.
Officials with the circus say the protests have had no impact on ticket sales.
All shows for Thursday, Friday and Saturday were sold out. Only the Sunday matinee had tickets available, officials said.
Gilbert said she does not believe Ringling's denials and said she was motivated to go ahead with the protest.
"I just thought about the elephants and I figured if they can endure what they go through, then I can endure this with no problem," she said. "That's what motivated me to overcome any fears I had."
All fields but Phone Number are required to submit a comment, but contact information is for internal communication only.