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WeHo ban on exotic animal displays comes after rowdy meeting

It was a contentious meeting Monday in which animal rights activists and commercial elephant owners accused each other of spewing propaganda, but in the end, the West Hollywood City Council banned commercial displays and performances of wild and exotic animals.

Circus acts involving such animals, carnival performances, trade shows and parades are included under the ban, as are any such events requiring wild animals to do tricks, fight or perform “for the entertainment, amusement or benefit of an audience,” according to the ordinance.

More than a dozen people spoke about the measure before the City Council voted.

One woman held up a bullhook used to prod elephants while speaking in favor of the ban and attempted to pass it among council members. Another woman, opposed to the ban, compared animal rights activists to cult members.

Kari Johnson, owner of commercial elephant company Have Trunk Will Travel, said the ordinance is “not fair” and that her company treats elephants humanely. Johnson said the council was being unduly influenced by a handful of animal rights activists and did not do its research.

When another speaker who supported the ban accused Have Trunk Will Travel of “sickening brutality,” spokespeople for the company and other audience members began a shouting match that had to be broken up by Mayor Abbe Land.

Patty Shenker, a Tarzana resident, said she applauded the council for being “the most pro-animal city in our country.”

“It’s time to…make circuses what they should be: human talent, not animal cruelty,” Shenker said.

West Hollywood has long been known for its animal-friendly laws. Pets are formally recognized as “companions” and their owners as “guardians.” The city has banned cat declawing and the retail sale of cats and dogs. And a ban on the sale of fur apparel will soon go into effect.

The ban on exotic animal displays, initiated by Councilmen Jeffrey Prang and John Duran, does not include the display of wild or exotic animals for educational purposes or to groups of 20 or fewer people. A small audience, the ordinance states, would limit “the potential risk or danger to the public.”

The ban also does not apply to film productions with permits because the American Humane Assn. monitors animal welfare in productions, the ordinance states.

Duran said the city has a “long, progressive history of taking a position against animal cruelty” and called himself a “National Geographic geek” who was fascinated by animals.

In an impassioned speech, Prang said he hoped such bans would eventually become nationwide.

Prang said that when he sees commercial animal displays on television, he feels like he’s watching “the bully picking on the poor kid…and, damn it, now I’m in a position where I can do something about it....I can write this ordinance.”

West Hollywood joins other California cities, including Huntington Beach and Pasadena, in banning commercial exotic animal displays.

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

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