Local Vet examines circus animals

Valley Vet Clinic Veterinarian Tom Taggart examined several of the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus animals last week.
By : 
Chad Smith
Tri-County Record

Animal rights groups have long been critical of circuses, accusing them of not caring for their animals. But Tom Taggart, owner of Rushford’s Valley Veterinary Clinic, saw just the opposite last week. Taggart personally inspected the animals during the recent Culpepper & Merriweather Circus appearance. “Although that was the first circus I’ve dealt with, I’d say those animals were better cared for than a lot of people are,” Taggart said. “I was a little surprised at just how well they care for their animals. I’m a victim of what I read too, but these animals all had jobs they performed with the circus and they really seemed to appreciate it. This year, one of the big cats actually had a root canal. The animals get bloodwork done regularly. They’re basically checked for everything.”

Taggart describes the process of getting selected to inspect the animals as “a little goofy.” Circuses need to have health certificates in their possession in order to cross state lines. Vets need to have federal accreditation (which Taggart does) in order to fill out those health certificates. He said it’s actually a pretty simple job to do for the circus when you have the federal number.

Though Taggart didn’t touch any of the big cats, he did see them interact with their handlers. “The circus employees were very skilled in handling the animals,” he said. “The [cats] were in their steel cages, so the handler poked them a little, so they got up and went out into their steel enclosure. The animals were very friendly to the handler. The big lion actually came up to him (Trey) and rubbed against his hand.” Taggart said the lion handler would actually make a sound and the lion would open his mouth so wide, Taggart could see the root canal

Taggart got much more up close and personal with the performing dogs and the horses. Taggart feels that since the circus owners are making a living off these animals, they likely take better care of them than average folks do at taking care of their pets. “I actually wasn’t nervous examining the big animals,” he said. “The guy in charge was in complete control of them and very cautious. I actually get way more nervous about working with a 1,000-pound horse. Those horses might be pets to some people, but to me, they’re 1,000-pound pets that don’t always like other people.”

Culpepper & Merriweather Circus is based in Oklahoma, and Taggart struck up a good relationship with the owners because he went to veterinary school at Oklahoma State University. “I’m no different than anyone else,” Taggart said. “Based on what I read and see, I probably wasn’t a huge fan of the circus myself, either. Back in the old days, an elephant escaped from a circus in Oklahoma (He broke his shackles and he didn’t want to be there anymore. That’s my experience from my younger days. But these were some of the nicest animals I’d seen, and they were well cared for.”

 “They were going back to Wisconsin for some shows before heading on to Illinois,” Taggart said. “So, for the next 30 days, I’ve provided two health certificates that allow them to go on to another two states. It didn’t require any special skills. I know how to do the paperwork and how to inspect the animals, mainly to prevent transmissible diseases in humans.”