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And in the center ring… no center ring

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 18, 2002


"It always happens that when a man seizes upon a neglected and important idea, people inflamed with the same notion crop up all around." — Mark Twain

Last week, marking the end of an era, a circus of sorts came to Encinitas. With the Encinitas City Council poised to vote on an ordinance banning the "Display of Wild or Exotic Animals for Public Entertainment or Amusement," a group of misguided business owners, opponents of the ban, decided to stage a hit and run promotional event. Aiming to educate residents on the importance of their continued well being, with elephants on asphalt, they failed on numerous levels.

On Monday, April 8th,Encinitas residents were a buzz due to sightings of elephants in the Petco parking lot. Not only were concerned residents calling each other, they also called City Hall inquiring about the legality of the event. The person who called me said she thought I should know. Refraining from running down to "save the elephants" and confront those exploiting elephants ,I instead waited until Tuesday morning to find out who was responsible for the media stunt.

What I considered to be an easy fact finding mission turned out to be a two-day adventure in investigative journalism. Since the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce shares the shopping center with Petco, I decided to start there. Asking who sponsored the event, featuring elephant rides and other animal "experiences," the Chamber ladies told me that I should ask the folks at Petco. At Petco, the employees told me they had no idea who sponsored the event and that they had nothing to do with it. Dead end.

The next morning, the day the Encinitas City Council was to vote on the proposed ordinance, after reading reports about the roadside circus, I was still left with the question who was responsible for hosting the Monday event. Back at the Chamber, the nice ladies, tell me that I should be asking the folks at Petco. When I informed them of the Petco denial, they sheepishly said I should direct my inquiry at Petco.

Back at Petco, I notice flyers on the checkout counters, telling customers the Encinitas ordinance being consider was just a front for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Whose real motive was taking peoples pets away from them. I kid you not. When asked about the flyers and the animals act, he deferred to the store manager who "would be in tomorrow." Cool.

Trying a different tack, I asked the security guard if those offering elephant rides had the necessary permits. He responded that although he asked repeatedly to see the permits they never materialized. Armed with a smoking gun I ventured down to city hall to see if permits had been obtained by the events organizers. They had not. In fact, the city had no idea the elephants were in town, until residents starting calling code enforcement asking for an explanation.

Wondering why Petco would invite the wrath of city officials by encouraging an illegal event, I went back to the fliers for a contact number. Instead I was drawn to the charges against PETA. Going online, www.peta.org, I discovered the animal welfare organization has singled out Petco for their deplorable treatment of animals in their stores. Turns out Encinitas is just the latest skirmish between those two groups. Thankfully a majority on the Encinitas City Council was able to see past the piles of propaganda to do the right thing.

A small step for man, a huge step animal kind, on April 10, 2002, Encinitas became the first city in San Diego County to ban the display of wild or exotic animals for public display or entertainment. With an exemption for veterinarians who might treat exotic animals and educational purposes conducted by non-profit groups and members of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, this was a win/win decision. That is except for those who seek to profit from animal exploitation.

Proving themselves to be ahead of the environmental learning curve, the people of Encinitas should commend themselves for transcending antiquated cultural considerations, in favor of enlightened leadership, at a time when the status quo needs a serious reevaluation. Even Councilman Jerome Stocks, who voted against the ordinance, stated animal exploitation had no place in Encinitas. His objections relating to non-profit status, were semantic in nature, and easily cleared up if proven valid. It's nice to see Encinitas Council members working for the betterment of all.

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