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Jul 11, 2017 3:48 PM

Kelly Miller Circus animal caretakers take on activists: 'We're not hiding anything'


HILLSBOROUGH — Grimes Field in Hillsborough will be the site of two shows (4:30 and 7:30) for the Kelly Miller Circus Tuesday night, their last stop in the Granite State this year.

The circus has faced a fundamental shift in the last few years, essentially forcing the “Greatest Show on Earth” Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus to close their curtain after almost 150 years in the business. Activists saying animals like elephants shouldn’t be forced into unnatural positions as part of entertainment. And some lawmakers agree; with new legislation continuously being passed strengthening restrictions on circus animals in several states. New Hampshire isn’t there yet, and as long as it’s legal the circus will continue to come to town. And the crowds will follow.

READ: Protesters expected at circus after some complain of mistreatment of animals

The Kelly Miller Circus is now one of the biggest in the business, a touring circus which operates in several towns across the country, seven days a week from April to October. General Manager, Tavana Brown, says you can say what you want about disagreeing with the circus, but don’t say these animals are neglected.

“I respect a sign that says, ‘I’d like to see an animal free circus,’ but when you accuse us of neglect and abuse, that’s what we take offense to,” Brown says.

She’s worked for Kelly Miller since 1989 when she started as an aerialist. Brown says the circus employs 50 people, 10 of those are exclusively caretakers for the animals.

Brown says every 30 days a veterinarian comes and checks all the animals and issue an updated health certificate. She also says they are governed by the USDA which makes surprise day-long inspections.

She says she started to see a shift when information became readily available on the internet without necessarily fact checking. “A person can say something without any documentation or verification.”

She encourages people to come out and see the animals before the shows, and talk to the staff and ask questions. “We always invite people to come out, ask us questions, see us in person. Don’t just take things that you’ve seen on the internet as fact when you haven’t researched it.”

Brown expects protestors tonight before the shows, she says she just hopes they refrain from using profanity, like protestors did last week in Bristol.

“We’re in New Hampshire. Live Free or Die, right? You have a right to protest, you have a right to your opinion, but you don’t have a right to be disruptive or use profanity.”

Joey Frisco III is a third generation elephant trainer, now works with the Kelly Miller Circus. Elephants are his life and livelihood. He was a month old when 51-year-old Jenny came to live with him and 12-years-old when 45-year-old Cindy became part of his family.

He loves his elephants so much, he has several tattooed on his arm. “They are amazing animals to live around. They are amazing animals to grow up around,” Frisco says before interrupting our conversation to talk to Cindy like she’s a mischievous child. “You’re going to do that on purpose, I already know what you’re going to do,” then Frisco turns back to me, “She’s going to flip the water bucket.” A game he says Jenny and Cindy play when they want fresh water.

A controversial YouTube video from several years ago shows Frisco and his lineage of elephant trainers, what looks like, abusing the elephants. Frisco doesn’t deny too much force was used. “Was there some sloppy handling? Nobody’s perfect,” Frisco says. “It was corrected and fixed.”

A day in the life of Frisco includes feeding, watering and washing his elephants. He says the biggest thing people don’t understand is the amount of care, love and respect he has for his elephants. He feeds them 100 to 300 pounds of food in one day and they drink 50 to 100 gallons of water daily.

“We’re not hiding anything, we never have,” Frisco says. “Come see the elephants come see for yourself.”

Another criticism the circus has received is that the lead for some of the animal, like the zebra, mule, pony and camels are too short. Carolyn, who doesn’t like using her last name because she says she’s become a target of activists, owns these animals and says that is absolutely not true. “They are always tied where they can move around naturally,” she says.

Carolyn, like Brown and Frisco, encourages the community to come out and see the animals and ask questions. And Carolyn says, she encourages activists to do the same. “If you’re out there with a sign that says ‘animal free circus,’ you believe no animals should be in captivity, we can agree to disagree. But if you have signs that say I abuse my animals than you're wrong. You’re absolutely wrong.”

Tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for kids.

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