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David Pendered

Bullhooks use on elephants not banned by Atlanta’s proposed animal code that’s to be adopted June 18

By David Pendered

Atlanta is poised to enact a new animal ordinance drafted by Mayor Kasim Reed’s office that does not ban the use of “bullhooks” to control elephants.

Bullhooks are specifically banned by a Fulton County animal ordinance, which would have prevented the use of the barbed sticks in February by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The circus won the right to use bullhooks to control elephants through a lawsuit it filed against the Fulton County.

The mayor’s office intends for the Atlanta City Council to vote June 18 on the proposed animal ordinance, according to the legislation. That’s likely to be a busy day for legislation, given that the council also plans to approve a citywide budget of $540 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.


Bullhooks like this are applied to sensitive spots on elephants to get them to respond to commands. Credit: In Defense of Animals

The proposed animal ordinance is slated to be considered Tuesday by the city council’s Public Safety Committee. If the committee approves the proposal, it is to be on the council’s June 18 agenda for a vote without discussion – unless a councilmember asks for it to be discussed.

The city’s proposed legislation would tighten the city’s animal ordinances by adopting codes for use in the portion of Atlanta within Fulton County.

The proposed ordinance largely tracks Fulton County’s ordinance, which is used through the portions of Atlanta that are in Fulton County.

But the city’s proposal does not specifically ban the use of bullhooks and appears to contain only the following definition of animal cruelty:

  • “It shall be unlawful for any person to overload, poison, cruelly treat, maim, tease, bruise, deprive of necessary sustenance or medical attention, improperly use, deprive of shade and shelter, or in any manner whatsoever torture, kill, or abuse any animal.”

Click here to read the proposed animal ordinance.

Mayor Kasim Reed's proposed animal ordinance

Mayor Kasim Reed's office has proposed animal ordinance that does not ban the use of bullhooks on elephants. Credit: City of Atlanta

That language is identical to the wording of the Fulton County animal ordinance that now rules in Atlanta-in-Fulton. The similarities don’t stop there.

Atlanta’s proposed legislation, like the county’s ordinance, goes on to address issues including animals that run at large, security animals, confinement of female dogs in heat, and skunks and foxes.

However, Atlanta’s proposed ordinance does stop short of including a section in Fulton County’s code that specifically addresses cruelty to elephants. The county’s code reads:

Sec. 34-212. – Cruelty to elephants.

(a) As used in this section, the term “bullhook” shall mean a device or instrument containing a spike, hook, or any combination thereof. A bullhook is also known as an ankus, ankusha, elephant goad, or elephant hook.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to use a bullhook on an elephant within any area described in section 34-201(a) of this chapter.

(c) It shall be unlawful for any person to use on an elephant any device or instrument that inflicts pain on, or causes or is likely to cause injury to, an elephant, except as necessary to administer legitimate medical treatment or in response to an immediate threat to public safety.

Atlanta already has animal ordinances for the portion of the city within DeKalb County, according to the proposed legislation.

Controversy over the city’s animal ordinances unfolded in February, when Fulton County notified the circus that it intended to enforce its ban on bullhooks. County officials told the circus that if bullhooks were used, the county may seek to impose criminal penalties and impound elephants.

Lawyers with Troutman Sanders filed a lawsuit against the county on behalf of the circus. Fulton County Superior Court Judge John Goger ruled the ordinance did not apply within the city.

The performances went on, as did protests over the circus’ use of bullhooks


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


1 Comment

  1. KathyB June 11, 2012 10:17 pm

    This is particularly upsetting to me because it undermines the attempts my group, Against Atlanta Horse Drawn Carriages, has made to have the City of Atlanta ordinances enforced for the small dilapidated properties and buildings that are being used to house the horses that pull carriages through the streets of Atlanta. Current Atlanta city codes specify that each property can have no more than 5 horses and that each horse must have a minimum of 200 sq.ft. There is no exclusion for commercial facilities. The Atlanta Police Department and the City of Atlanta have blatantly refused to enforce these ordinances as written. Now, the new ordinance, if adopted, would exclude “commercial horse facilities” from any restrictions on the number of animals that can be kept on a single property and any space requirement that currently exists. Conviently, the new ordinance does not specify any requirements for commercial horse facilities. What prevents a stable owner, such as the ones that own the carriage horses, from cramming as many horses as possible into as small a space as possible like they do now? Answer: NOTHING!Report


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