Zoofari celebration supports animal care

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Rosie the snake, an armadillo, a spectacled owl and a French rooster welcomed 300 guests to the Santa Ana Zoo’s 25th annual gala. Hosted by the Friends of Santa Ana Zoo, the Zoofari dinner and fundraiser on Aug. 27 celebrated the zoo’s dedication to animal conservation.

“Zoofari has grown from a dedicated group of Zoo supporters who gathered to enjoy a festive evening to celebrate all that the Santa Ana Zoo has to offer,” said Cathi Decker, executive director of FOSAZ.

Best known for its large collection of monkeys, the Santa Ana Zoo opened 65 years ago. The reason for the zoo’s monkey menagerie: The land was donated under a provision that requires the zoo to house at least 50 monkeys. Thus, monkeys have been a huge inspiration for much of the zoo’s development – which now includes a soon-to-open Fifty Monkey Ferris Wheel.

Zoofari gala guests had an opportunity to tour the zoo, which was decorated with purple, black and silver flourishes, and see the area where a giant river otter habitat is planned.

The gala’s live and silent auctions raised $100,000.

“It means so much, especially raising the funds needed for all the special projects and improvements going on here,” Decker said.

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Ringling Bros. shuts down the big top after 146 years

By TAMARA LUSH

UNIONDALE, N.Y.  — With laughter, hugs and tears — and the requisite death-defying stunts — the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus received its final standing ovation Sunday night as it performed its last show.

“We are, forevermore, the Greatest Show on Earth,” boomed Johnathan Lee Iverson, who has been the ringmaster since 1999. His son, who also performed, stood by his side. The show was held at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, about 30 miles  east of New York City.

It was an emotional 2 1/2 hours for those who worked on the circus. Many of Ringling’s employees are second, third and even fourth-generation circus performers, while others met their spouses while touring. All spent months on the road, traveling from city to city in Ringling’s train cars and describing themselves as a giant family, albeit one with many clowns.

Big cat trainer Alexander Lacey hugs one of the tigers during the final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, N.Y. Ringling's circus began its final show Sunday evening after 146 years of wowing audiences with its "Greatest Show on Earth." (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) ORG XMIT: NYJJ109
Big cat trainer Alexander Lacey hugs one of the tigers during the final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, N.Y. Ringling’s circus began its final show Sunday evening after 146 years of wowing audiences with its “Greatest Show on Earth.” (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Two performers hug after the final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) ORG XMIT: NYJJ120
Two performers hug after the final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 21, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

But it also was the fans who felt like family.

Elaine Bario, a 57-year-old usher at the Nassau County Coliseum, said she’s seen the circus every time it’s been on Long Island — some years as a child with her father, who also was an usher at the same venue.

“The animals, this is where we fell in love with them,” she said. “We got to see animals here and the Bronx Zoo. We don’t go on safaris.”

Bario cried as she watched the final big cat act with its leopards, tigers and Alexander Lacey, the handsome animal trainer.

“I’ve always had a crush on the lion tamers,” she said, laughing through tears.

But it was those animal shows that led to the circus’ eventual demise.

Over the years, animal rights activists had targeted Ringling, saying that forcing animals to perform and transporting them around the country amounted to abuse. In May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline. People, it seemed, didn’t want to see a circus without elephants. Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January it would close the show, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.

A handful of protesters stood outside the venue on Sunday, with signs that said “compassion always wins,” and “the future is animal free.”

Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld said that “we all have to embrace change.”

Feld’s father and uncle bought the circus in 1967. It was sold to Mattel in 1971, but the Feld family continued to manage the shows. The Felds bought the circus back in 1982.

Earlier Sunday, a group of retired and former circus performers sat across the street at a hotel bar, laughing and hugging and sharing memories of tours past.

“There’s a lot of mixed emotions, said Rev. George “Jerry” Hogan, Ringling’s circus chaplain. “It’s a reunion, but it’s bittersweet. I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in years.”

Once a mainstay of entertainment in small towns and big cities across the country, Ringling had two touring circuses this season, one of which ended its run earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island . That show was the more traditional, three-ring circus, while the one performing this weekend had a narrative storyline. Called “Out of This World,” it was set in futuristic outer space.

In the end, though, Feld executives said they knew the circus couldn’t compete with iPhones, the internet, video games and massively branded and carefully marketed characters. Their other productions — Frozen on Ice, Marvel Live, Supercross, Monster Trucks, Disney on Ice — resonate better with younger generations.

But that didn’t stop the circus from giving the performance of their life, one last time, to one last crowd.

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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Seal Beach animal shelter’s 15 shaggy dog tales have happy endings

SEAL BEACH — It’s a shaggy dog story. But instead of rambling along pointlessly, this tale comes to a happy conclusion – albeit after a harrowing start.

The Seal Beach Animal Care Center recently took in 15 filthy long-haired dogs ranging in age from, approximately, 2 to 7 years old. The mutts, which appear to be poodle mixes, had spent their entire lives practically piled on top of each other in a small outdoor enclosure, said Jane Parnes, lead volunteer at the shelter.

Parnes declined to say who rescued the dogs or where they were found. “They appear to be from several litters,” Parnes said. “They are clearly related.”

The little dogs arrived toting more than a pound of fur each – about one-tenth of their body weights.

Their coats, intended by nature to be white, were brown and matted. Tangled tresses completely obscured their faces. When shelter workers groomed the pups, their knotted fur came off in single dog-shaped clumps.

“All that hair had to be painful for them,” Parnes said.

The dogs grew up in a cramped pin, she said. “The area had no covering to protect them from rain and sun. They had little interaction with humans, just a bowl of dirty water and some food.”

The owner asked if he could keep one of the dogs, Parnes said. Rescuers turned down his request.

“I’ve been here 18 years and I’ve seen all sorts of things, including cigarette burns,” she said. “These dogs may not have scars, but theirs is some of the worst abuse I’ve ever seen. The sad thing is, lots of dogs live in similar situations.”

Despite their grim back story, the dogs are sweet.

“They are in various stages of being scared,” Parnes said. “But they all wag their tails and give kisses. They love being held.”

At first, Parnes thought the shelter would hang on to the dogs for a few weeks to acclimate them to humans. Some are under treatment for eye infections.

But three have already been adopted: Shannon, Quinn and Rainbow.

“People fall in love with these dogs,” Parnes said.

Of course, Parnes hopes that every shaved shaggy dog will end up with loving owners.

“But then,” she added, “I wish all of our dogs and cats could find homes.”

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