Speakers Cry Foul On Bill To Ban Exotic Animal Shows In Pittsburgh

May 24, 2016

Ron Gongaware, 57, of White Oak is a Shriner with the Syria Shriners organization in Cheswick. He said his group's circus would effectively be banned by a bill before Pittsburgh City Council.
Credit Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council members heard testimony from local residents Tuesday on a bill that would ban the use of exotic animals in performances within city limits.

Ron Gongaware, 57, of White Oak is a member of the local Syria Shriners group based in Cheswick. He said the legislation would effectively end his organization’s Shrine Circus, which has been raising money locally for free children’s hospital services since about 1950. 

“And that circus is our biggest fundraiser we have, so the ban of those exotic animals would be a tragedy for us,” Gongaware said.

The Shriners raise money to provide free medical services at 22 hospitals in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The nearest to Pittsburgh are in Erie, Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

Council President and legislation sponsor Bruce Kraus said the move towards banning live performances by exotic animals is part of a larger pattern across the country.

“When SeaWorld retired the orca, it made not just national news, but international news. When Ringling Brothers retired the elephants to the elephant sanctuary, I thought it was another sign that the industry was beginning a path to self-regulation,” Kraus said.

His bill would prohibit the use of 18 different orders or families of animals in live performances in Pittsburgh, including a multitude of creatures from lions and tigers to weasels and raccoons.

“I would like to know if what I would like to call the purposeful breeding, training, caging and transporting of an animal for the sole purpose of entertainment is considered to be humane any longer,” Kraus said.

The councilman said even if the bill doesn’t pass, he’d like those in the entertainment industry to consider voluntarily ending the use of exotic animals in live performances.

Council has not yet schedule any further discussion on the bill.