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Animal-rights advocates plan protest near UniverSoul circus in Woodlawn

A group from the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals plans to protest outside tonight's opening of the UniverSoul circus in Woodlawn.

PETA's protest will take place at Security Boulevard and Belmont Avenue an hour before the 7 p.m. performance, said Tricia Lebkuecher, a PETA staff organizer.

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Demonstrators, including some wearing animal mascot costumes, will urge the public to steer clear of circus performances involving animals, she said.

The Atlanta-based circus has shows scheduled at the Security Square Mall through June 18.

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Lebkuecher said tonight is the only night PETA will lead a protest, but local activists are expected be on site daily through Sunday and on assorted days while the circus is in the area.

Lebkuecher said eight people said they planned to attend tonight's protest via a Facebook event and 40 expressed interest. PETA tries to host demonstrations at the opening performance of every circus with animals, Lebkuecher said.

Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Ofc. Jennifer Peach said there will be no additional patrols in place because of the circus or the planned protests. The circus did not request any additional units, which it would have had to fund, she said.

Lisa Wathne, manager of captive wildlife protection for The Humane Society of the United States, said the nonprofit typically does not do protests, but it supports PETA's efforts.

"Wild animals who are used in circuses are denied everything that is natural to them," she said. "They maintain their wild instincts and can't express those instincts or behaviors."

Animals that take part in this circus include horses, zebras, camels and elephants, said UniverSoul spokesman Hank Ernest. Government agencies regularly conduct inspections.

"We must do well by our animals not because the government tells us to, but it's because we know it's important for the longevity of the circus and the longevity of the animals," he said in a previous interview.

The circus sent a statement Wednesday afternoon addressing the planned protest.

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"The UniverSoul Circus believes that all animals are entitled to humane treatment and should never be mistreated or abused in any way," it reads. "All of our animal vendors are subject to regulation by federal, state, and local animal welfare authorities. We care about the well-being of each of the animals that travels with and performs in our shows, and we regard all of them as valued members of our performing cast delivering high quality, family friendly entertainment that brings joy, happiness and laughter to audiences around the world."

Baltimore County's animal services officers or veterinarians do an inspection of all animals, their housing and paperwork upon arrival into the county and make periodic inspections during their stay, said Monique Lyle, a county spokeswoman.

Lyle said the pre-inspection for the animals — which covered food and water supplies, bedding, emergency plans including emergency sedation, valid permits for exotic animals, a USDA certificate and liability insurance — went well.

The protest, and UniverSoul's arrival, comes less than two weeks after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, a circus long known for its animal acts, held its final performance, after more than 140 years of shows.

"With Ringling Brothers closing, it's never been clearer that the public is turning away from these animal acts," Lebkuecher said. "If UniverSoul wants to perform in the 21st century, they should lose the animal acts and highlight human acts."

This story has been updated to include a statement from the circus and results from a county inspection.




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