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Circling Around And Around, Orlando Veterinarian Protests The Circus

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Randy Cannon's truck circles the Amway Center while the circus performs inside. Photo: Catherine Welch

The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus came to Orlando this weekend. Families on their way to the circus were met with animal rights protesters who stood across the street holding signs. While one local veterinarian turned his truck into a mobile protest.

A pair of seven-foot video screens sit in the back of a black long bed truck. The screens loop a video of actor Alec Baldwin talking about circus elephants and how they’re trained.

It’s just before a matinee performance. Families flood toward the doors. Children are especially attracted to the screen. They hear the sound, turn their heads, look over expecting to see something entertaining, and then their faces fall as they register what’s on the video – elephants being beaten.

Orlando veterinarian Randy Cannon sits behind the wheel.

“There are some people react by not wanting to see, they cover their eyes, look away you can tell they’re trying their hardest to ignore,” said Cannon. “Then you’ll get other people who’ll get angry, shoot you birds, yell at you.”

Cannon bought the truck and screens for his organization, Take Your Blinders Off, that doesn’t just protest the circus, but also the meat and dairy industry. He drives down busy streets like I-Drive or around Lake Eola blasting videos of slaughterhouses.

But when the circus comes to town, the elephants own the screens. Pretty much all day, before and after the noon show, the two o’clock and the six o’clock shows Cannon circles clockwise around The Amway Center: Division Street to Central, Central to Hughey, Hughey to South, South back to Division. Round and around, he passes police officers at every corner, the homeless, men with signs hawking $10 parking spaces, and the hundreds of people headed to the circus.

He’s been doing this for three years.

“I could certainly have a much better social life if I wasn’t involved with this, but the thing is, it needs to be done,” he said. “But it certainly not something that I wake up in the morning and go ‘oh great, I get to circle the arena for two hours making right hand turns all day.’”

Red lights are his friends. Both he and those heading into the arena are stuck together waiting for the light to change. Again, children’s faces light up with excitement then fall.

Sometimes there are moments of serendipity, like the one that came in the middle of the day when he had to stop so a line of elephants right in front of him, trunk to tail, could enter the arena. “How appropriate that he’s describing the elephant training weapon on the video as the elephants walk across the road,” said Cannon.

Cannon watches the elephants with a weary expression. The protesting wears on him. He’s been yelled at, threatened, pulled over by police. But it mostly leaves him wondering if any of this matters, has he made a difference? He forces himself to answer yes, that every little victory is worth it.

On this day, he gets that little victory when he wasn’t expecting one. Cannon had pulled over to check his phone, and a woman walking toward the circus stops to watch the video. Glued to the screen, tears well up in her eyes and she tells Cannon that she just can’t go inside.

“And that’s why I always say, if every time we take the truck out we make a difference one time, it’s worth it,” he said.

So next week, he’ll be in Jacksonville circling the circus over and over with Alec Baldwin blaring from the back of his truck.

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About Catherine Welch

Catherine Welch