Yesterday, Ringling Bros. decision to retire all of its elephants by May of this year was “one of the biggest announcements in the modern era of animal welfare,” according to animal rights advocates. But for one of Central Florida’s most prominent Democratic politicians, it may actually be upsetting, after emails reveal one of his bucket list items did not get completed last year, despite weeks of effort by City of Orlando staff.
City of Orlando employees including Venues Director Allen Johnson called in favors and spent weeks attempting to organize a private ride for Mayor Buddy Dyer on a circus elephant. Yes, the Democratic mayor wanted to use the perks of his office to score a ride on an elephant in the midst of an animal rights campaign to end animal cruelty at the circus.
In one email exchange, Johnson brings in Kirk Wingerson, the city’s Marketing Division Manager at the Venues. “Is the Mayor doing a photo opportunity or something with the elephants?” Wingerson, who makes $92,000/year at the city wrote. “I need a little more info than what this thread provides.”
“He wants to ride one,” Allen Johnson emailed back.
Earlier in the city email thread, Johnson and Kathryn Scanlon, special assistant to the mayor, go back and forth attempting to find a time. It appears 6am was the proposed time to sneak the mayor on the back of a performance animal.
“Doubt it will be that early,” Johnson emailed back. “This may be time that the elephants [sic] schedule maybe tougher and then [sic] the mayor schedule!”
In December, Allen Johnson, who makes $180,000/year as Venues Director, was already busy calling in favors. “Any luck on my request?” Johnson emailed Bill Powell, Vice President of Event Marketing of Feld Entertainment, before New Year’s. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is one of the Feld Entertainment brands.
“You owe me,” Powell wrote back. “Called in a few markers but it will happen on Friday next week.”
A week later, Melinda Hartline of Feld Entertainment emailed Allen Johnson with some big news. “Spoke to Bill,” she wrote. “Let’s make Buddy’s dream come true. This is the year to do it!”
“One off the bucket list,” Johnson said.
It’s bad enough these elephants were forced to perform for paying guests at the circus, but senior city staff were now organizing a private ride for Mayor Dyer on performance animals. “At this point, it’s no secret that circus elephants are not treated kindly,” MTV news wrote yesterday. “They’re forced to endure whipping, chains, electric shocks and painful jabs from sharp bullhooks in order to make them perform and keep them in line, beginning when they’re still just little babies.”
According to Last Chance for Animals, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus uses some of the worst training practices with elephants ever documented.”
And yet, this was what Mayor Dyer wanted.
Little did anyone know Melinda Hartline wasn’t kidding, considering yesterday’s decision to phase out the elephant act this year. But things would slowly fall apart for the Mayor’s “dream.” Mayor Dyer and the elephants could not find a time that would work in both of their schedules.
“I know he is disappointed but maybe another year,” Johnson later emailed Powell.
So, how many senior city staff does it take to schedule an elephant ride for the Mayor? At least 10 city employees were involved in the process by Allen Johnson and at the end of the day, scheduling couldn’t work.
“He is more disappointed that I can tell you,” Johnson emailed Hartline about Mayor Dyer.
What a dumb idea all around.