'This is not fair at all’: City Council defers decision on exotic animal ordinance

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After a lengthy debate Monday night, the Charlotte City Council deferred a decision that impacts circuses that perform in the city limits.

The council has been considering a ban on bullhooks, which is a tool used in handling and training elephants.

Council members faced another heated public hearing Monday night on the issue. For the first time, supporters of the UniverSoul Circus, Charlotte’s longest-running circus, addressed the City Council.

A representative of UniverSoul warned the council that their ordinance banning bullhooks, electric prods, whips and other devices from being used to train exotic animals, was too vague.

“We have done our best over the years to represent the good actors of the business,” said Benjamin Johnson, who is with UniverSoul. “For us to be thrown into a pool of bad actors like this is not fair at all.”

The city was notified of potential ordinance changes recommended by UniverSoul at 4 p.m., according to city attorney Patrick Baker, who read proposed changes to the ordinance to the council. After hearing feedback from the council, Baker left the chamber and went to a back room to try to craft an ordinance that the council could vote on. Mayor Vi Lyles temporarily tabled the ordinance so Baker could work on it with the hope it would be ready for a vote by the end of the meeting. When the topic came back up, Baker was still not present.

The Charlotte City Council voted 5-5 to defer the vote. Lyles cast the deciding vote that ultimately deferred the decision.

The vote will come up again in March.

Numerous Charlotte residents spoke of the importance of keeping UniverSoul Circus in Charlotte. Charles Robinson highlighted UniverSoul’s community involvement and told the council how UniverSoul paid for Hidden Valley children to attend the circus for free. Dr. Blanche Penn told the council she brings her 13 grandchildren to the circus.

“At the end of the day, we have to make sure we keep the circus here,” Dr. Blanche Penn said. “The UniverSoul Circus is a good thing for our families.”

Numerous speakers in favor of the bullhook ban told the council they do not want to see the circus go away, they just want an end to its exotic animal performances. Council members said their action is not meant to target UniverSoul specifically and they hope the circus will remain in Charlotte.

“This in no way shape or form should ban the circus,” Councilman Matt Newton said. “The language put together by our staff is not inhumane, it is what is used elsewhere.”

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