Darlene Harris rode a Shrine Circus camel and elephant — and some Pittsburghers are pissed at the mayoral candidate

“Disgusting!!! How can you ride on the backs of enslaved animals!?”

Darlene Harris rides an elephant!

Darlene Harris rides an elephant!

Darlene Harris / Facebook
Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated, 2:15 p.m.

Councilmember Darlene Harris, who would like to be the mayor of Pittsburgh, made a recent visit to the Shrine Circus at PPG Paints Arena, where she rode an elephant and a camel.

We know that, because she posted six public photos to her personal Facebook page Monday morning with the message:

I would like to give a big thanks the Shriners Circus for coming to Pittsburgh as well as Paul Levy for inviting me and my staff meet the animals and preforms of the circus. I made a lot of new friends Rudolph the Indian camel and his friends, the tigers, Tracey the elephant and her friends and I cannot forget the outstanding trainers and care takers of the animals. Very well taken care of and “What A Show!”

Reaction was mixed, but some people on Facebook are pissed. A sampling of the negative reactions include:

  • “Disgusting!!! How can you ride on the backs of enslaved animals!?”
  • “Shame for supporting a company abusing animals and putting people at risk. Besides, so little of the money actually goes to helping people. This is not a ‘charity’ to associate yourself with. Shame on you!”
  • “As an animal lover I’m disappointed you chose to condone the exploitation of animals by circuses. Smh.”

Through a member of her staff, Harris reported via email that the “animals were cared for well, clean, and seemed happy and well-fed.”

Last year, Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus introduced a bill that would ban “the performance of wild or exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement,” including for circuses. That legislation, The Incline reported last week, is effectively dead, but animal-rights advocates are still working to get it passed and recently met with the mayor’s staff.

Kraus succeeded Harris as Council president. The two have publicly clashed at Council meetings, including at one where the members passed a ban on conversion therapy of minors. As TribLive reported, “Kraus accused her of supporting Trump’s campaign. [Harris] called him the worst council president in city history.”

Not everyone who saw Harris’ Facebook post was displeased with the councilmember’s trip under the big top.

One woman just wanted people to calm down: “OMG people It’s The Shriners who absolutely do wonderful work for children. Some of you are so ridiculous in thinking the animals are mistreated. I’m sure these animals are treated a hell of a lot better than some children. UNREAL.”

Another woman wrote, “Nice photos Darlene! WOW, you really rode an elephant and a camel! .”

Wow, she really did. Read Harris’ full statement below.

I’ve been an animal person and raised animals all my life. I love animals. And if I saw someone treat an animal wrong, I’d have something to say. There’s good and bad in all, but I went behind the scenes at the circuses to see how the animals were taken care of, and they were treated very, very well. The circus is the only place some children will be able to see these types of animals close up.

With the Shrine Circus and when Barnum and Bailey was here, I did not see anything I would consider abuse—only care. The animals were clean, safe, and had enough room to roam around.  If anyone has information on alleged abuse, I am willing to go see it for myself because I operate on facts. But these animals were treated better than I’ve seen some humans being treated.

Any wild animal maintains their wild instinct. If they’re not being treated right, they won’t perform and can lash out. The trainers live with these animals and care for them every day, so they know them and care about their well-being.

This post has been updated with comment from Harris.