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Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Shrine Circus came back to town

THE EYE OF THE TIGER — Attendees at the Shrine Circus’s performances in Hamburg last week were treated to performances by man and beast alike. Photo by Jeffrey Barnes.
HAMBURG — The 68th year of the Ismailia Shrine Circus took place March 13 – 16 at the Event Center at The Fairgrounds in Hamburg.

The Shriners is a volunteer-based group that dates back to the late 1800s and supports philanthropy and hospitals that focus on pediatric medical care. Shiners hospitals began developing in 1922.

THE CIRCUS IS FOR EVERYONE — Boys and girls of all ages attended the circus at The Fairgrounds. Photos by Alicia Greco.
An annual fundraising circus event is held by that organization in Buffalo. Originally hosted at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, the circus moved to Hamburg in 1996, when “The Aud” was replaced by the HSBC Arena, now the First Niagara Center.

Thomas Lyons, owner of Lyons Media Services, the advertising agency that sponsors the circus, said that the organization has enjoyed presenting the circus in Hamburg.

“That’s the great thing about the Event Center: You’re right close up to everything,” he said, adding that the proximity of the bleachers, 30 feet away from the performers, brings attendees to the action.

WOOF WOOF — Pictured is Christi’s Alaskan Malamutes dog act. View more photos at
The Shriners support 22 hospitals, known as the Shiners Hospitals for Children®, throughout the country. That group assists adolescents who need medical care such as orthopaedics, burn treatment, spinal cord injuries and cleft lips and palates, according to Lyons.

“We’ve had some wonderful local kids who have been helped by The Shriners,” Lyons said.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON — The ringmaster spoke to the crowd during the Shrine Circus, held March 13 –16.
Gary Crewson, in his second year as circus chairman and spokesperson, became involved after a personal experience with that organization. Crewson’s grandson was nearly 3 years old when he experienced an accident that led to severe burns on the side of his face, neck and shoulders.

“In a matter of hours he was on his way to Cincinnati [Shriners Hospital for Children],” Crewson said. “After I saw what they did, it was something I wanted to be involved in.”

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? — A girl watched the circus from the sidelines at the Shrine Circus.
Funds raised by the circus to go support the Shriners and its efforts. Crewson said that a jet that may be needed to transport a child for emergency medical attention costs could cost $15,000; the proceeds from the circus, in addition to other barbecue and raffle events throughout the year, would help pay for that child’s flight.

The local circus was entirely volunteer-run; all vendors were also Shriners, and the proceeds were pooled together into the overall fundraiser. The concept of any circus can stir up concern for animal rights activists, as noted by a recent Sun letter-writer.

“A person need not be an expert to realize that being in a circus is no life for a wild animal,” said a Blasdell resident, in a letter to the editor published in the March 6 edition of The Sun. “Deprived of all that is natural to them, animals are forced to endure extensive travel, chaining, deprivation of sleep, food or water and constant physical punishment.”

The Shrine Circus committee followed up with a response letter to the editor, in the next edition.

“The Shriners take pride in both our animal and human acts,” the letter said. “We will never tolerate abuse of any kind toward any animal in our circus. When parents bring their children to The Shrine Circus, they can be assured that they will see the highest quality, animal-friendly and most entertaining show of the year. To our critics, we welcome you to come out and give us a try. You may find we have a lot more in common than you think.”

Crewson and Lyons said that they host the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and certain federal agencies on a random basis, to demonstrate the animals’ treatment behind the scenes. “We’ve had glowing reports from anyone that has come in,” Crewson said.

“We’re concerned, too,” he added. “None of the Shriners are in any way related to any mistreatment of the animals. We care about the animals. We want to provide for the children.” We don’t want anything to happen to the animals.”

Lyons said that the performing creatures “are extremely well taken care of. We’ve never had a problem. We’re very, very careful about the animals. The Shriners’ mission is to help kids and, at the same time, we also love animals. We’re not going to do anything that would jeopardize any animal.”

Acts for this year’s show included daredevil Karl Winn’s “Whirling Wheel of Death;” Galaxy Girl and the Diamond Divas; the Hamid Circus Elephants; Christi’s Alaskan Malamutes dog act; comedian and performer JustLarry, who has traveled nationwide; the flying trapeze; motorcycle daredevils; Las Vegas, Nev. white tigers; clowns; aerialists and more. Performers were hired by circus Owner James Hambid Jr. of Hamid Circus Inc.

Lyons said that, for him, the highlight of these events is “the look on a child’s face when they walk out of the circus.”

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2014-03-20 | 12:39:19
animal abuse
Do the Shriners genuinely believe that this elephant (her hame is Okha) stands on the ball voluntarily? Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for her to do this? These animals spend their lives in cages and trucks and chains; if the Shriners organizations don't consider that to be abusive, then what is? And, btw, money from the circus does not go to the hospitals - and it is frankly misleading reporting to imply that it does.
2014-03-20 | 15:53:54
Cruelty of the animal circus
How can the circus owners claim to 'care' for their animals when they control their elephants through fear and stress by the use of a bullhook. Elephants in circus suffer both physically and psychologically due to their restricted freedoms, leading to stress and poor welfare. Please DO NOT take your children to circuses using animals for entertainment.
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