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Pittsburgh City Council Votes To Ban Use Of Bullhooks, Baseball Bats On Wild Animals

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Two elephants hang out by the water at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium on June 10, 2015.

Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday passed a controversial bill outlawing the use of certain tools for training or controlling wild animals.

The ordinance specifically bans the use of “bullhook, electric prod, shocking device, hacksaw, ankus, ankusha, elephant goad, elephant hook, baseball bat, axe handle, pitchfork, whip, stick, muzzle or instrument capable of inflicting pain, intimidating or threatening pain.”

More than an hour of public comment preceded the vote.

Representatives of the Syria Shriners said the new law would prevent them from holding their circus fundraiser, which they said would in turn jeopardize the organization’s ability to raise money for children’s hospitals.

Paul Levy, chairman of the Shriner’s Circus, said he could support the bill if it specifically outlawed only the “improper” use of such tools.

“I know for a fact we are one word, one word away from agreeing, where both sides of the room will walk out of here happy,” Levy said.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium CEO Barbara Baker also petitioned for the inclusion of the word “improper.” She said the bill as written would negatively affect the safety of animals and caregivers.

“Many of the implements mentioned in the bill are used every single day at our zoo to clean and care for the animals, but never to hurt or abuse the animals,” Baker said.

But Brian Bonsteel, president of Humane Action Pittsburgh, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“The purpose of training an animal with such an instrument is to instill fear that it will never forget,” he said. “That’s why even when you’re not sinking the bull hook into the flesh of an animal, the brandishing of it is just as powerful as brandishing someone with a gun.”

While an amended version of the bill was adopted just before the vote, it did not include the use of the word “improper.”

The bill passed 6 to 3, with council members Darlene Harris, Deb Gross and Theresa Kail-Smith voting against it.

Both Harris and Gross questioned whether the ordinance itself is lawful. Harris said insurance companies require the zoo to have such tools on hand, and Gross said she was uncomfortable with the speed at which the revised version of the bill was moving.

But Council President Bruce Kraus said the ordinance had been vetted by the city's law department and would bring Pittsburgh in line with national standards.

“History will show we made the right decision,” Kraus said.

This post was updated on 12/19/17 at 5:28pm to clarify that the Shrine Circus does not directly benefit children’s hospitals.

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