Protests Planned Outside of Ringling Bros. Show at TD Garden

PETA and other animal activists don't think elephants should be used in circus performances.

The circus is in town, and people aren’t pleased about it.

With Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at TD Garden, to put on a show through the weekend, animal rights activists are preparing to congregate outside of the arena to protest the performance.

Members of PETA, and In Defense of Animals, have teamed up with locals to voice their concerns about the circus’ use of elephants and other live animals in their acts. “If the children knew what was going on behind the scenes there would be no way they would go into the circus,” said Jessica Thibodeau, who organized a Facebook event page for the protests planned outside of TD Garden over the next three days.

Thibodeau, who has two young kids, said she has been working closely with several organizations to help “educate” people about the harms done to animals forced to take part in circus performances. “The long hours in chains and transport cars, the abusive training techniques, the way they rip families a part…it’s the antithesis of what elephants should be doing. Once you learn more about them, you can see that. When you break them apart as a family, and make them do these stupid tricks for these families, it’s completely unnatural, and unethical, and I think it’s just all about money,” she said.

Ringling has long dealt with protests from people and large organizations, claiming they mistreat their animals—specifically the elephants. In 2012, Feld Entertainment, the parent company that puts on the circus shows, reached a legal settlement with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in connection with two federal court cases, after they claimed the ASPCA and other groups “attempted to destroy” the business through “targeted, malicious rhetoric” and lawsuits.

In a separate case in 2011, Feld Entertainment paid a $270,000 fine to settle allegations that it violated federal animal-welfare laws, however.

Besides the organized protests, PETA also hosts a website called “Ringling Beats Animals,” where they highlight the alleged “mistreatment” of the elephants with videos, photos, and documents.

Stephen Payne, a spokesperson for Ringling Bros., said he isn’t surprised that people are planning on setting up protests outside the TD Garden entrance, but he hopes it doesn’t “ruin the experience” for families that want to be there. “The activists are a headache. We hope customers can see past them, and see how healthy and vibrant our animals are. We have been taking care of Asian elephants for 144 years. We are proponents of animal welfare wherever we go,” he said, adding that while he respects their first amendment rights, he doesn’t agree with their tactic. “They are entitled to their own opinion, but they make a number of broad-brushed allegations about our animal care that just aren’t true.”

Thibodeau said regardless of what circus organizers say, video and research she has done on her own terms is what brought her to the conclusion that involving live animals in acts isn’t “right,” and even if only a few circus attendees listen, that’s enough to incite change in peoples’ behaviors.

“These are peaceful protests, this isn’t a radical protest. It’s about educating the families coming in,” she said. “I’m hoping some people turn around once they hear the truth. Some won’t, and will call us crazy, but we are hoping people take the information, do their own research, and find other family friendly entertainment that does not involve animal abuse. Awareness is key.”

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be in town through the weekend. On Tuesday, the group dressed up one of their elephants in Red Sox baseball gear—something Payne said doesn’t hurt the animals—and on Thursday, the elephants will have lunch in the North End with first responders.