Protestor highlights the plight of circus animalsPaul F. P. Pogue

Tuesday, Aug. 20: Brandi Valladolid is nearly naked, body painted to look like a tiger. She"s curled up in a 4-foot-by-5-foot wire cage on the steps of Monument Circle. She"ll be in there for an hour, holding a sign before her: "Wild Animals Don"t Belong Behind Bars."

Brandi Valladolid, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, crouches in a wire cage on the steps of Monument Circle as part of a demonstration Aug. 20.

Valladolid is a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals" International Grassroots Campaign. Originally from Virginia, she"s been in this cage several days a week for six months now. It"s part of a demonstration she brings from city to city, always a few weeks ahead of the appearance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the same city. Valladolid and those with her protest - quite publicly - what they say is chronic mistreatment and enslavement of animals by the circus.

The cage is cramped - it"s the same size of the cages PETA says the circus keeps tigers in, and there"s not room for Valladolid to adjust her position, let alone stand up. She fidgets every so often, but not much.

She"s not alone here today. Half a dozen animal activists and members of PETA are with her, handing out flyers and displaying signs that read, "The slave trade is alive and kicking."

One of those present is Kristina Hulvershorn, an Indianapolis activist, handing out leaflets. "People are mostly coming by to see what"s up," she says. "But they"re taking the literature and reading it, which is the important part."

An older woman storms up to her and points at the cage. "I really find it offensive that you think it"s OK to be exploiting women for this cause," she snarls.

"I find exploiting animals to be offensive," Hulvershorn replies.

"I have a choice to be in this cage!" Valladolid shouts back. "Circus animals don"t!"

The woman starts to storm off. Hulvershorn points to Valladolid and shouts after her, "You can go right up and talk to her about it! There are people here who want to talk to you!"

That woman is the only one who directly heckles them. Many people don"t seem to pay attention. The lunch hour crowd fills up the steps of Monument Circle, and most folks appear to be going about their day. Those who do glance at Valladolid read the flyers and move on. Few seem to want to be caught staring at her, although a number of passing men openly leer. Several appear to be trying very hard NOT to look at her.

"People are just creepy, the way they stare at her," says Jake Summers, another activist holding up a sign. "It"s scary."

One guy walks by and makes little claw gestures at Valladolid. "Mroowwwr!"

"Oh, yeah, that"s original," grumbles Curtis McNeely, a Bloomington activist on the scene. "We"ve never heard THAT one before."

PETA presents a grim image of the lives of animals in captivity. Their literature and anti-circus site at tell of animals dying of untreated sickness, numerous USDA violations, animals forced to live in cages and shackles for the majority of their lives and training techniques that focus on torture and negative reinforcement.

In addition to the accusations of mistreatment, the protest goes to the heart of PETA"s position that it"s not proper to transport animals halfway across the world for entertainment.

"I don"t think you"ll find many people who"ll agree that it"s OK to steal animals from their natural habitat and make them slaves for our entertainment," Valladolid says. "Yesterday, I had two mothers come up to me and tell me they were never going to take their children to the circus again."

She reserves particular venom for the circus" Center for Elephant Conservation.

"It"s pretty much a breeding ground for elephant slaves. Anyone who was really so concerned with elephant preservation would be putting money into preserving their natural habitat and ending the ivory trade."

Catherine Ort-Mabry, spokesperson for Ringling Brothers, says that the demonstrators cloud the facts with exploitation and stunts.

"Just because she"s naked doesn"t mean she"s right," Ort-Mabry says. "Unlike the special interest groups, we have 132 years of hands-on animal care. This stunt"s a perfect example of how they spend their donors" money and their time, with irresponsible displays, instead of putting money directly into animal care."

Ort-Mabry categorically denied all of PETA"s allegations.

"If even a very small portion of what they claim were true, the regulators at the state and federal level would have shut us down years ago. The animals are well-loved and well-taken-care of Ö Any training of a large animal depends greatly on respect between the animal and the trainer. The training methods we use are based in repetition and reward. That"s the only way to train a large animal to do something. You can see that in the show itself. If there were any concern on the part of the animal, you"d see it pulling away. It would be afraid of people. But the zebras and elephants and other animals approach people. They like them Ö You can tell when an animal"s been mistreated. We are dedicated to taking care of animals in a safe and humane manner."

By the end of the one-hour protest, when Valladolid is released from the cage, she"s fidgeting nervously in the heat and humidity. But, she says, it doesn"t bother her so much as does the thought of animals in similar captivity.

"So many times I"ve been in this cage in the heat or cold and people bring me water or hot chocolate. And I tell them, "Extend that sympathy to the animals. I"m in this cage for an hour. These animals are in cages and shackles for their entire lives,"" she says. "There"s an elephant in captivity that"s been there for 51 years. I can"t imagine that level of loneliness. Fifty-one years in shackles."

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