TRACY — The circus is coming and, apparently, its baggage is being carried by an international animal rights organization.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has sent a letter to the Tracy City Council urging a ban on the use of bull hooks, electric prods and other devices used in the training of circus animals, days before the Florida-based Carson and Barnes Circus rolls into town with shows in the West Valley Mall parking lot.

But circus officials — who invited the public to come view the elephants during the set up of their performance tent beginning at 9 a.m. Monday — say they don't use electric prods, and the bull hooks have been standard practice for centuries in an effort to guide the elephants around.

Even though any new ordinance would not affect the four shows scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, PETA said the performances would be the last time such instruments are used on elephants in Tracy.

The use of bull hooks results in pain, suffering and trauma, including lacerations, puncture wounds and abscesses, wrote RaeLeann Smith, circus and government affairs specialist for PETA, in the letter to the council.

"Although elephants' skin appears tough, it is so sensitive that elephants can feel the pain of an insect bite,'' Smith wrote. "Trainers embed the hooks into the elephants' skin and soft tissue areas. Bull hook abuse is routine at circuses that continue to use this barbaric instrument, but penalties are rare. Elephants will not be afforded more humane care until communities prohibit these cruel devices.''


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Harry Dubski, director of marketing for Carson and Barnes, said their animals are "the most important thing in the world.''

"We own 28 elephants ... and we sleep with them when they're sick,'' Dubski said. "They're all named after family members and get rotated on and off the road so they don't get over-stressed. They're not chained up like people would think. They do rides and help with the set-up, that's all part of the circus. They enjoy what they do. Our animals are very well-loved.''

The Carson and Barnes Circus was founded 72 years ago and has been family-owned and operated, with the owners, their children and grandchildren all traveling on the road, Dubski said. Their two-hour shows features acts with clowns, acrobats, aerialists, horses, jugglers, camels and a traveling zoo, the Web site said.

Tracy police Capt. John Espinoza said, just like any other business, the circus was required to apply for permits, which were granted with a few conditions.

"We are subjecting them to inspections from our animal control staff,'' Espinoza said. "It's important that we work with everyone to ensure everything is done legitimately in any business venture.''

Reach Mike Martinez at 209-832-3947 or mike.martinez@bayareanewsgroup.com