As crowds shrieked and animals roared inside the Cole Bros. big top Monday evening, another group stood silent at the edge of Crown Point Road, letting their signs and literature do most of the talking as they protested the circus's arrival in West Deptford.
About a half-dozen protesters from Animal ACTivists of Philadelphia handed out literature and talked to a handful of concerned circus-goers in between shows, as they cited recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) charges against the circus for violations in 2006 and 2007, and denounced the entire affair as animal cruelty.
“They're wild animals, and they're not meant to be in the circus,” said Rachel Ogden, as families climbed aboard to ride one of the circus's elephants behind her.
While Ogden and her compatriots know their message won't get to everyone, she said just making that connection with the people they can reach is important.
“People do care,” Ogden said.
Monica Fioretti, who brought several of her nieces and nephews to the show, said she felt horrible after hearing some of the charges against the circus and the stories Ogden and the other protesters had to tell.
“I just thought it would be something fun for the kids to see,” she said. “Now I feel like the bad aunt.”
Ogden said moments like that one make her feel good about coming out to speak against the circus.
“It's not really about the feeling that it gives me, though, it's about how it'll help the animals,” she said, adding that it's important to educate as many people as they can about the lives of circus animals, so that those people, in turn, can spread the message to others.
Michael Norris, marketing director for Cole Bros., dismissed the protesters' claims as being either outdated or unfounded, and said the circus gets regular inspections from the USDA during its 200-plus show, nine-month tour.
“We're spot-checked probably every three or four towns,” he said.
Norris said it wouldn't make sense for the company to abuse any of the animals that appear in the circus.
“They're the biggest part of the show, so there's no way they're going to be mistreated,” he said.
As for the protesters, Norris said they simply don't understand how the company operates.
“Their heart's in the right place, but it's just misguided,” Norris said.