The city of Missoula moved one step closer to banning wild and exotic animal acts after the City Council on Monday night passed a proposed ordinance 8-4 on the first of two scheduled hearings.
Those council members who voted to the send the ordinance back to committee three weeks ago maintained their opposition to the law, but they couldn’t find the votes needed to scuttle the proposal once and for all.
“I wish many of you would come forward on human rights with as much fervor as you have on this,” said Ward 4 council member Patrick Weasel Head, who voted against the ordinance. “If you truly want to make systemic change, you ought to stop it at the beginning.”
Weasel Head said those in favor of banning wild and exotic animal acts should stop the recruitment and training of wild animals before they’re recruited and trained.
But other council members supporting the ordinance took issue with that, saying Missoula has been a leader supporting human rights, and that avoiding the responsibility to address an issue locally was only “shirking” one’s responsibility.
“To say we haven’t solved all the problems in the world so we can't address this one locally is unsatisfactory to me,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler.
Monday night’s hearing saw many of the same faces and comments made over the past two months, or as long as it has taken the ordinance to maneuver its way through the political process.
Opponents maintained their stance that circus animals are pets, that they were domesticated long ago, and that they’re cared for by their trainers.
One man said if Missoulians truly cared for the circus’s wild carnivores, they would offer up “good Montana road kill” to feed them.
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“We’re not talking about wild animals,” added opponent Candy Matthew-Jenkins. “These animals are not wild. They’ve been domesticated.”
But others argued that the measure of society lies in how it treats its animals and called the ordinance long overdue. Those in favor said passing the ordinance would make Missoula a more compassionate place, and that cruelty wasn’t entertainment.
“I’m asking you to consider this from the captive wild animals that live diminished lives due to forced performances,” said Kathleen Stachowski. “Many who are OK with animal exploitation have appealed you to think about the children. I’m doing that too. What are we saying to our kids if we fail to act on this ordinance because an hour of entertainment for us is worth a lifetime of suffering to the animal?”
Council members debated the ordinance for the third time in as many weeks. The ordinance initially passed the Committee on Public Safety and Health on a unanimous vote before five members of the City Council sent it back to the same committee for reconsideration.
The committee again approved the ordinance last week. The council on Monday night approved it on an 8-4 vote, with Adam Hertz, Ed Childers, Weasel Head and Annelise Hedahl, who initially supported the legislation, voting in opposition.
Alex Taft, Bryan von Lossberg, Jordan Hess, Emily Bentley, Jon Wilkins, Mike O’Herron, Marilyn Marler and Jason Wiener supported the measure.
“The law has long been used for privileged people to exercise power,” said Wiener. “This is not why I ran for the City Council, but when called upon to take action on a cause that is just, it’s not appropriate to shirk our responsibility.”
The proposed legislation must survive one more public hearing and another round of voting, scheduled for Sept. 14, before becoming law.