Smyrna’s spokeswoman Jennifer Bennett confirmed Wednesday that the bears will be at the festival.
Original (published April 5, 2018):
The world’s largest animal rights organization doesn’t want Yogi, Dotty and Leah to come to Smyrna.
The three bears are set to appear later this month for an entertainment and educational exhibition at the Smyrna Spring Jonquil Festival, the two-day event honoring the city’s favorite flower.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, started an online campaign Wednesday to encourage event organizers, JRM Management, to pull the act.
READ | What's a jonquil and why is Smyrna obsessed?
As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, more than 17,000 emails had been sent to JRM asking the same, said Debbie Metzler, a PETA senior captive wildlife specialist.
“Sometimes that’s what it takes. It takes people to see tens of thousands of people calling upon them,”Metzler said.
JRM did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday.
Curtains fell on "The Greatest Show on Earth" in May after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus said factors like declining attendance and high operating costs, but also changing public tastes and battles with groups like PETA, became too much to bare.
READ | Where was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey located before the Omni?
Metzler said the group, which claims to have 6.5 million supporters worldwide, learned about the Smyrna bear show after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported it'd be coming to the festival for the first time.
Jennifer Bennett, spokeswoman for Smyrna, said the city was not aware of PETA’s campaign. She said the city reviewed JRM’s selection of the bear act.
The city’s liaison with JRM for the festival, which runs April 28-29, was out of the office Thursday, Bennett said.
Metzler said PETA sent that JRM liaison a letter on March 27 asking him to nix the exhibition “based on public safety concerns and animal safety issues.” Metzler said JRM didn’t respond in a week as asked, so PETA launched the online effort.
Part of PETA’s claims was that one of the bears attacked its handler at the Saratoga County Fair in New York at a summer festival.
From a first-person account reported by The Post Star daily newspaper in Saratoga: "The handler was holding his face, blood streaming from it, the two of them walking into the trailer where the bears stayed, which was attached to the fenced-in performance area."
Dexter Osborn said it was just a scratch.
“They can hurt you without even trying,” said Osborn, who runs and handles the bears for “A Grizzly Experience.”
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The bears — who live on four acres in Naples, Florida, and have appeared on television — are on the road about two or three months a year on and off.
Osborn has 17 years of experience handling bears and has his air-conditioned trailer inspected by Florida and federal authorities.
He dismisses PETA’s claims that the show is cruel and dangerous.
“They’re against everybody these days. It doesn’t mean anything. They can’t stop anything,” Osborn said.
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