Tuesday, February 15, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Exotic-animal ban defeated

Seattle Times staff reporter

"All Seattle is crying," Claudine Erlandson said as she stood in City Council chambers minutes after the council voted 5-4 against banning circus animals from Seattle. "That is not rain outside, it is tears."

The comment by Erlandson, a leader of Citizens for Cruelty-Free Entertainment, was yet another moment in what has been an emotional three weeks. In a debate marked as much by passion as logic, the final vote was met with tears from the animal-rights activists who filled the chamber yesterday.

For proponents of the ban, it was a tough day and not just because they lost the vote. It was worse because they had been so close. When the ordinance was introduced, its backers counted five solid votes.

Now, after a furious and expensive campaign, they weren't enjoying victory. Instead, they were left with the unattractive option of supporting a new ordinance that would do nothing to stop what some referred to as animal slavery.

In the next several weeks, Councilwoman Heidi Wills said she will introduce an ordinance to give Animal Control more power to monitor circuses. The idea at least appears to have the support of a majority of the council.

But to animal-rights activists, it isn't nearly enough.

"Bottom line," said Diane Venberg, an organizer for the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), "there's no way to provide a natural habitat for animals in a circus. This won't help with that."

PAWS is not giving up, Venberg said. Earlier this month, the group had pushed for a ban on the performance of exotic animals on the state level. Venberg managed to persuade a handful of state senators to sponsor the bill, but it died in committee.

Venberg said other cities in the state might be ready to pass the ban. "We could try Olympia," she said. "We could even try Tacoma."

Or Seattle, again. Both Wills and Councilwoman Judy Nicastro said they would consider reintroducing the ordinance next year. Mayor Paul Schell, who first raised the prospect of a ban last fall, said in a statement he continues to think it is the best way to deal with the issue.

Many activists are unwilling to wait that long. Venberg and Erlandson said their groups will consider trying to get the issue on the November ballot. Time and money will be obstacles. The two groups spent thousands of dollars on ads before the vote. Both say finding the money for an initiative would be difficult.

This does not mean they will fade away, they said. The issue will surely heat up again in September when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus plays seven shows at KeyArena.

It has been a tradition for a handful of activists to hand out anti-circus fliers at the performances. Venberg promised PAWS will be there.

Joan Galvin, spokeswoman for Ringling Bros., said the circus is preparing for a greater number of activists wherever it plays. Although there has never been an attack against Ringling Bros., she said the circus has tightened security in recent years after strikes by militant groups against other circuses.

She said Ringling Bros. has no plans to stop using elephants and tigers and lions. Even with a growing protest movement, she said animals continue to be the biggest draw for the 10 million patrons of the circus each year.

"As long as they continue to come by the millions, we will have animals," she said. "And we will continue to protect the rights of people to go see them."

Council members Jan Drago, Margaret Pageler, Richard McIver, Jim Compton and Peter Steinbrueck voted against the ban. Members Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, Wills and Nicastro voted for it.


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