Some parents say a PETA protest at a Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus in Cabarrus County went too far by including a 12-year-old girl in a cage. The girl volunteered and her mother gave permission. PETA says it represents the suffering animals encounter traveling with the circus.
Circus production manager Jason Gibson says he’s seen hundreds of PETA protests in his 11 years with the circus. "This is the first time I've seen anything like this,” Gibson said. "It's very disturbing to see it like that." The 12-year-old behind the mask is Bella Jenkins. "I thought it was a really good idea,” she said. Her mother was by her side. "She doesn't see why not,” she said.
PETA alleges animal maltreatment by Ringling Brothers. "We have the utmost care for those animals 24-7,” Gibson said. Some circus-goers say the cage act outdoors is offensive compared to the ring act inside the Cabarrus Arena Events Center. "As a parent, I probably wouldn't,” said parent Amy Eller. "A girl in a cage is extreme,” said parent Emily Ronemus.
We asked PETA organizer David Salisbury if using a 12-year-old goes too far. "Kids deserve to know there are animal-free alternatives to every fun thing they can do,” Salisbury said. PETA says circus animals lose their freedom for a lifetime of cheap tricks. We asked if this was a cheap trick on PETA’s behalf. "We often have to do eye-catching demonstrations to get the attention that the animals deserve,” Salisbury said. Parents say there are plenty of ways to get a message across without including a child as a main attraction. "I don't know if that's really setting the right example for making a protest,” Gibson said.