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Circus-goers at the Huntington Center Wednesday got their first glimpse of elephants not as performing pachyderms in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth.
Instead, the opening-night crowd was greeted at Huron Street and Jefferson Avenue by signs, some hand-fashioned, that showed pictures of baby elephants in ropes or at the end of a hooked stick.
Local supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - about 15 in all - waved placards and handed out glossy flyers with more pictures of elephants and titled, "Ringling Bros. Circus: The Cruelest Show on Earth."
"The aim is to educate the public," said Gary-Alan Hopkins, 25, of Point Place, PETA's volunteer area grass-roots coordinator. "There is so much going on behind the scenes that people don't know because it's so well-hidden."
Jeanette Eckert, 30, of West Toledo said: "These are animals being forced to do things that are not remotely natural behaviors. Humans are capable of better."
"Animals are not yours for entertainment," one sign said. Another said: "Ringling Bros. beats and shocks elephants so they will do tricks for you."
Ringling Bros. took strong and swift exception, albeit in a statement also issued in other cities after other protests.
"Animals at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey are healthy and well cared for by a team of full-time veterinarians and an animal care staff that works to ensure that the animals have an enriching and safe environment," the statement said.
"Protesters make false and distorted allegations about Ringling Bros. animal care and we invite people to come see for themselves that our animals are healthy and thriving in our care."
Wendy Wood, 53, of North Toledo and her 4-year-old granddaughter, Amera Stephens, waited outside the arena for relatives to join them at the circus.
Then she saw the signs and the pictures and recalled a news report last year of animal cruelty.
"I can't go in. I'm a PETA person," Ms. Wood said. The rest of the group, two adults and two young children, arrived with their tickets in hand. Ms. Wood reluctantly bought a ticket for her granddaughter and left her in the care of relatives.
"I'm almost on the verge of tears, because being totally against something and then supporting it …" Ms. Wood said as she walked away from the arena.
Her counterpoint was Jeff Carter, 57, of Tiffin, who heard of the protest and made his own sign, which he flashed at circus opponents: "PETA - People Eating Tasty Animals."
"These animals are treated so good, I just had to do this," he said.
His companion, Pat Boes, 59, of Tiffin, brought her son, Roger Seifert, 38, and grandson Cole Seifert, who turned 1 Wednesday, and other family members.
"We love the circus," Ms. Boes said, then, to the protesters, "Bye! We're going to have fun!"
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