Beyond the brightly lit marquee announcing the 2018 Hejaz Shrine Circus at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, Dawn McQuiston and Rosemary Thompson held signs with statements like “Don’t Go In,” “Animals Suffer in the Circus” and “Don’t Support Circus Cruelty.”
McQuiston, an associate professor of psychology and a pre-law faculty member at Wofford College, and Thompson, a national campaign manager for CompassionWorks International who works in the Upstate, co-organized a peaceful protest Monday night on the sidewalk outside the downtown venue in regards to the treatment of circus animals.
The women were joined by other protesters, including several Wofford students.
McQuiston said she has been an active advocate for animals since she was in college and she believes circuses are “inhumane, exploitative, abusive and sad.”
“There is no educational value in watching wild animals who live their lives in captivity perform unnatural tricks. This is a barbaric, cruel practice that belongs in the past,” she said. “I would love to see the Upstate area, including compassionate students, faculty, and staff at Wofford College, be at the forefront of animal advocacy in the state. It is critical to be a voice for animals who cannot help themselves.”
Monday was opening night for the Hejaz Shrine Circus, an event billed as “Upstate South Carolina’s premier family entertainment extravaganza” and that is in town through Thursday. The show includes acts featuring tigers, elephants and ponies.
The circus made a stop at the Civic Center of Anderson last week and will be at Timmons Arena on the Furman University campus this weekend. The circus is an annual fundraising event for the Hejaz Shrine, according to its website.
Sherwood Kaiser, executive administrator of the Hejaz Shrine Circus, said he was aware of plans for the protest Monday night and that the two elephants, five tigers and few ponies in the show are not mistreated.
“I see these animals for 10, maybe 11 days while they’re in town and these trainers and performers treat these animals better than, in my opinion, some people treat their dogs and cats,” he said. “Yes they are taught to obey commands, but these animals are not abused.”
Abbey Elizabeth Brasington, a junior majoring in psychology at Wofford, said the group plans to protest again outside Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium ahead of the Tuesday night show. She said the goal of the protest is to educate people about what she said is overlooked animal abuse in the circus culture.
“I have animals of my own and it’s always been something I’ve been passionate about,” she said. “We are hoping to stand for those who can’t always stand and have a voice of their own. We want this to be an educational experience where people are learning in the process.”
Catherine Strickland, a freshman at Wofford majoring in environmental studies and Spanish, took a break from holding her protest sign to hand out educational flyers to people walking down the sidewalk toward the circus. Strickland said this year she started Wofford CARES (College Animal Rights and Equality Society), a group focused on educating students and the larger community about animal rights.
“It’s so good for kids to walk by and see these (protest) signs and ask questions because they don’t realize when you go to a zoo that’s not an animal in the wild, and when you go to a circus that’s not how animals naturally function,” Strickland said.