At 10:30 this morning, the Riverside Branch of the Fort Worth Library played host to Slappy and Monday -- two clowns from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus who treated some 43 kids to Reading with Ringling Bros. While one librarian who overheard the two clowns reading during this morning's story time told Unfair Park that the show "sounded really cute," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is crying foul, insisting that the program "condones animal abuse" at circuses.
Last week, the Norfolk, Virginia-based animal rights group sent Fort Worth Library's program coordinator Jeff Rodriguez a letter urging that the library cancel the program because it "violates the library's own policy against co-sponsoring programs with for-profit entities." To which the library is saying: Ringling is not "co-sponsoring" the event, and the special "circus-themed story time" is just one of the library's many ongoing summer reading programs that "encourages children not only to read, but also to learn, discover and dream."
To which PETA's saying: Nuh-unh, the circus is totally co-sponsoring the program! Especially, PETA maintains, because the Ringling folks will be passing out Ringling-branded goodies, as well as tickets to the circus when it stops by the Fort Worth Convention Center in August.
But, this Cowtown story really gets its start last summer, when PETA unveiled its behind-the-tent expose featuring elephants being whacked by their Ringling handlers with steel-tipped bullhooks. Feld Entertainment -- who owns the circus and puts Disney on Ice -- promptly issued a response questioning the "validity" of what they called a "deceptively edited video."
Then came those baby elephant photos that prompted PETA to ask the feds to shut down the "The Greatest Show On Earth." Since then, the animal right's group has been all over the circus AKA its "enemy number one" protesting Ringling's CEO, the company's PR firm, and even Take-Two Interactive Software (whose subsidiary 2K Games was developing a Ringling game for the Wii).
PETA's "circus specialist" Megan Grigorian tells Unfair Park the org is asking the library to cancel the program, or, "at the very least," to also pass out PETA's "age-appropriate" educational material, which includes things like a maze to help "Ele" the baby elephant "leave the circus" to "reunite with her family" and a connect-the-dot game to find out what animal is "hiding from a cruel trainer."
"Kids' especially despise cruelty to animals," she says, adding that they "have a right to know that circuses are a nightmare for elephants."
We then called Rodriguez to get his take on PETA's opposition to the program. And, to ask him if the library would be handing out PETA's "age-appropriate" reading materials or simply ignoring PETA's suggestions and going ahead with the program as planned.
Naturally, he says the library has responded to PETA saying it doesn't "condone any abuse of animals," but the folks over at PETA say they have furnished the library with "loads" of materials that the organization maintains depict: "Ringling's systemic, widespread abuse and exploitation of animals."
PETA asserts that by promoting Ringling, the library is condoning the actions of the circus.
But, as far as their position on PETA's position and their suggested "alternative reading material," yes, Rodriguez said the library has seen it, but, he tells us, "No, we are not distributing any of their information, and we have no comment on it."
He also addresses PETA's allegation that the circus is a co-sponsor of the reading event.
"They are definitely not a co-sponsor of the program," he says. "The extent of our involvement with them is that we have a number of programs that are provided by a number of groups from the Fort Worth Zoo to magicians and musicians, and they are just one of the groups providing those programs."
Here's a list of the other programs under the library's Summer Reading Challenge 2010, which, obviously, Rodriguez said are designed to "encourage children to read" over summer break.
Rodriguez does head into PETA-comment waters by explaining that "the other part of the program" that he thinks PETA is "concerned with" is the library's "reading incentives."
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"There are reading incentives that go along with these programs," he said. "One of the incentives is a children's coupon for admission to the circus."
The tickets are a "participatory reward" that Rodriguez saus is "a very standard practice at libraries throughout the country."
Despite Rodriguez's insistence, David W. Perle, PETA's senior media coordinator, maintains: "It's pretty clear that they are violating their own policies." Perle refers us to the contents of PETA's letter to Rodriguez, adding that the org's still hoping the library reconsiders.
The librarian we spoke with at Riverside said Slappy and Monday's story time "went well," and said that as far as she knew there weren't any PETA protesters dressed as injured baby elephants.