PROTESTERS WILL MEET AT THE
Camp Verde Community Center Field at 4:15 p.m., preceding the 5 p.m. show, and again at 6:45 p.m., preceding the 7:30 p.m. show.
CAMP VERDE -- The circus is back in the Verde Valley with the intent of bringing wonder and entertainment to all who attend. Local animal rights activists, however, say the circus brings nothing but “cruelty” and “neglect” to its animal performers.
Activists and protesters involved with Ban Exotic Animals in Traveling Circus Acts (BEATCA) plan to meet in Camp Verde Tuesday, April 16, to protest the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus performances.
Protest organizer Karen Melillo calls traveling circuses “troubling” and that they are dangerous to both the animals and handlers involved.
“When animals are brought into the mix, it is no longer a show that provides entertainment and wonder, but rather a show that has cruelty and neglect at its root,” she said in a recent news release.
Protesters will meet at the Camp Verde Community Center Field at 4:15 p.m., preceding the 5 p.m. show, and again at 6:45 p.m., preceding the 7:30 p.m. show.
The protest is intended to be “peaceful” Melillo said. She said she is working with the Camp Verde Marshal’s Office to ensure the demonstration is safe.
In a phone interview, Melillo said she went to see the Culpepper & Merriweather circus performance once before in Rimrock back in 2017. This was right after she became aware of what was going on at circuses.
She said when she saw the cats in cages, some were pacing in a stressful manner. Others, were laying on the ground.
“It just seemed to be that their stillness was not normal,” she said.
Melillo said what she is most concerned with is the “intrinsic abuse of the animals.”
“Even if they were fed filet mignon, for thousands of miles they are still in these cages, don’t have access to any sort of normal life,” she said. “No normal exercise. They have to eat in their cages, defecate in their cages. And they don’t stop … you can’t walk a tiger.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Culpepper & Merriweather was cited multiple times in 1991 for neglect and for not providing animals with adequate veterinary care.
As recently as 2015, the USDA cited Culpepper & Merriweather for not having up-to-date documentation of veterinary care available for review and inspection.
Camp Verde Parks & Recreation Division Manager Michael Marshall said he has been in touch with BEATCA and supports their right to protest.
“From our point of view, it’s our job to bring in diverse opportunities for a diverse group of people,” he said “Some people are thrilled the circus is coming.”
As to concerns regarding Culpepper & Merriweather’s USDA violations, he said the town hasn’t found anything too serious in recent years.
“It’s mostly been paperwork-type problems,” he said. “... we feel the organization is meeting standards.”
But Melillo said she thinks people really just don’t know what’s going on.
“I truly believe that if Mike (Marshall) from Camp Verde Parks & Recreation knew how volatile the situation is, I don’t think he would have them here.”
This isn’t the first time Melillo has organized a circus protest. In September, she rallied other like-minded activists to protest the Jordan World Circus at the Verde Valley Fairgrounds.
She said she has also been dialoguing with members of Cottonwood City Council on introducing a circus ban.
She said she has had little success through that avenue though, saying that there was a concern that the ordinance she proposed would also affect rodeos and fairs.
Cottonwood City Attorney Steve Horton said he does remember this being a “practical concern.”
But Horton said an ordinance could be carefully drafted to be narrowly tailored to just be a ban on circus animal performances.
“…(M)y research, as far as it went, indicated that a local jurisdiction in Arizona that wanted to ban circus/exotic animal acts and the display of circus/exotic animals could do so,” he wrote in an email. “But the scope and reach of such a ban would obviously depend on exactly how the ordinance is drafted and how the operative terms are defined.”
For more information on the protest in Camp Verde, call Melillo at 928-300-9151 or Kathy Kinsella at 917-846-3827.