Bill to ban circuses in county was ill-advised from the get-go

If it were up to Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, never again would a circus perform in Owings Mills, Reisterstown or anywhere else in Baltimore County.

Bevins jumped on the anti-circus bandwagon by introducing a bill aimed at banning from the county any circus containing wild or exotic animals — even if the animals were merely on display.

Her rationale was pretty weak, citing a TV report about Peru trying to get rid of circuses with live animal acts.

Indeed, her “do-gooder” assault on the circus proved so feeble she withdrew her bill within a week due to fierce opposition.

Had Bevins done her homework, she would have known Baltimore County already inspects all animals and their living conditions when the UniverSoul Circus sets up its red and yellow tent at Security Square each year.

The event is so successful in drawing children and their parents that UniverSoul, the only African-American-owned and -operated Big Tent in the country, stayed three weeks in Woodlawn, putting on 37 shows this past June.

That is the type of wholesome entertainment the county needs more of, not less — as long as county health inspectors keep a close eye on how the wild animals are treated.

Bevins’ proposal drew a strenuous negative response from Councilman Julian Jones, who was in the process of holding a protest rally in Towson when Bevins wisely withdrew her bill.

Jones called Bevins’ bill “radical legislation” promoted by “animal extremists to impose their extreme views about animals on the general public.” The result, according to Jones, would have been to “deprive tens of thousands the opportunity to attend the circus.”

The Woodlawn-Owings Mills councilman said the now-withdrawn Bevins bill “would outlaw educational visits by the Maryland ZOOmobile and the National Aquarium to schools across Baltimore County” and deny county children “the opportunity to learn about different animal species and their habitat.”

Clearly, Bevins overstepped.

Back in my formative years, my grandfather took me to see a circus set up on an undeveloped field along Pulaski Highway in eastern Baltimore County. I came home with remnants of cotton candy on my face and a small chameleon in a box that my mother in short order dispatched into the nearby woods.

It was a day I have not forgotten all these years. That’s the type of experience youngsters today get at the UniverSoul Circus when it stops in Baltimore County.

The few remaining circuses in this country emphasize human performers, not wild and exotic animals.

Take a look at the UniverSoul Circus website. You’ll see a minimum of animal acts and lots of outrageous clown acts, acrobatic acts and daredevil routines of amazing physical skills performed by world-class professionals from 24 countries.

Banning circus animals entirely is a step toward the “Nanny Society.”

Bevins may have been impressed by Peru’s attempts to get rid of circus groups that do, indeed, mistreat wild animals. But what violations of that sort have occurred when UniverSoul, the only circus that pitches its tent in Baltimore County, entertains families in Woodlawn? None.

Bevins inadvertently set off a racial dispute. Why should Baltimore County’s fast-growing minority communities be deprived of multicultural circus entertainment? The one circus that visits Baltimore County sets up its tent far away from her heavily white district.

Yes, UniverSoul Circus includes some tigers, zebras and elephants, but mainly ethnic and popular entertainment — more like Cirque de Soleil than Ringling Brothers.

Montgomery County is about to outlaw circuses in that suburban Washington jurisdiction, but is it wise to do the same in Baltimore County? Apparently Bevins is having second thoughts.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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