Off Limits

This place is a zoo!

The Denver City Council was a real three-ring circus Monday night, when a public hearing had been slated for fifteen-year-old Heather Herman's initiative to ban the use of exotic animals for entertainment, particularly by circuses such as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Before the real public comment could begin, Councilman Charlie Brown quipped that the measure was so ludicrous that it should probably be considered on April Fool's Day. And that, of course, ruffled the feathers of many animal lovers in the packed chamber, where the Youth Opposed to Animal Acts and pro-ban folks had staked out their territory on the left side, while the Ringling supporters, including John Kirtland, executive director of the circus's Center for Elephant Conservation, were on the right.

But the most entertaining part of the evening wasn't watching the two sides snipe at each other. It was watching council president Elbra Wedgeworth get snarky with the audience. At one point, she reprimanded the left with this: "We were courteous enough to listen to public testimony. I will not stand by for people yelling from the audience. That is very discourteous."

The transgression? Coughing out the word "zoo" in response to Brown's rhetorical query of YOTAA adviser Dan Hanley as to where the poor will see lions and tigers and bears if the circus doesn't come to town. Oh, my!

Vince Vaughn in Old School.
Vince Vaughn in Old School.

Then Wedgeworth had the audacity to cut off Blinky the Clown. Blinky the Clown! Russell Scott, star of a kids' show that aired on Channel 2 for three decades, was there to speak in favor of circuses from his experience as an honorary ringmaster. "If there was mistreatment of animals, I'd sure as hell have seen it," the 82-year-old Scott told the council before Wedgeworth interrupted -- and his three minutes weren't even up! We'd gladly have sat through twice that much. It was Blinky, after all!

Councilman Michael Hancock later attempted to atone for the slight, saying it was "a personal pleasure to see Blinky the Clown tonight." But for all the fanfare over the former TV icon, the fifteen-year-old politico was the real star of the show. Nearly everyone on council was glad-handing Herman and gushing all over her civic interests. Still, they wouldn't have minded if the Arvada high-schooler hadn't taken things quite so far in their town.

"I would like to defend Councilman Brown," Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie said after expressing her admiration for Herman's effort. "He was expressing frustration with the initiative process. If we had been able to address this in legislation, we could have dealt with the issues.... Another option is to go to your city council person. It can result in a better product."

Ouch.

Councilwoman Marcia Johnson joined Brown and Hancock in wondering where the initiative, the first to get on the August 10 ballot, might lead. "This is just a step toward banning medical animal testing, and I support animal testing," said Johnson, who also berated the crowd for being elitist, since they'd suggested people attend Cirque du Soleil (or Cirque do So-lay-all, as she pronounced it) instead of Ringling Bros.

As usual, the best one-liners came from Brown. And he ended with this winner: "This is not a teenage Britney Spears wedding. It cannot be annulled."

That's a good joke, Charlie Brown.

So that's why the cows are mad: At this year's National Western Stock Show, you'll find llamas and goats and yaks galore, but you won't spy a herd of fiberglass steer. Despite Paul Burns's two-year-long attempt to bring a more macho version of the CowParade to Denver, just eight of the long-horned masterpieces will be mingling with their flesh-and-blood brethren at the Stock Show over the next ten days. Find all of the fabulous fakes and you can enter the steer parade scavenger hunt, whose winner gets two round-trip tickets on Frontier Airlines.

Still, Burns had much bigger hopes for his brood. At last year's Stock Show, he announced plans for a charity project benefiting the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation that would set artist-decorated/corporate-sponsored steers loose on the streets of Denver. A similar attempt in Boulder featured larger-than-life prairie dogs; Santa Fe held its wild horses, while Jackson, Mississippi, landed a string of artistic catfish. Burns thought cattle would be a natural for Denver, particularly since the original CowParade had been such a hit in Zurich, Chicago and New York City. And by coming up with his own variation -- if only in gender -- Steer Around Town would cost a hell of a lot less than the million bucks the CowParade founders wanted to franchise their idea.

Burns found a fabricator, then started looking for sponsors who would pay $3,800 for a steer, as well as a $1,000 artist stipend to have it decorated by a Hyland Mather or a Tyler Aiello or even a Luis Jimenez. Oh, wait -- he still owes the city a mustang at Denver International Airport. But fewer than a dozen sponsors stepped forward, and the city never rode herd on the project. "I'm running out of energy," Burns says. "I started talking to the Webb administration two and a half years ago, and they made promises they didn't keep. That hurt. The last I heard was that it had been done in so many other cities that Denver wanted to do something different."

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