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Under the big top

Marie Havenga • Aug 25, 2016 at 8:00 AM

The lions and tigers are no longer part of the show, but high-flying acrobatics, clowns and more domestic-type animals kept crowds entertained during a pair of nearly two-hour Kelly Miller Circus performances Wednesday on Grand Haven’s Harbor Island.

Leon Stille, a member of the local Kiwanis club, said the circus is one of the biggest fundraisers for the civic group. It raised about $10,000 on Wednesday night through sponsors, ticket sales and parking donations.

Proceeds will go to local programs. Last year, the Tri-Cities Kiwanians donated $14,000 to reading programs in Spring Lake and Grand Haven public schools.

“The circus has made a number of changes to take the animals out,” Stille said. “We don't see the lions and the tigers and the true wild animals anymore. You see more horses and dogs.”

Stille said some people expressed concern in the past about the use of animals in the show.

“We've been very supportive of animal groups,” he said. “I'm a farm boy. I watch how they take care of their animals here. They're extremely mindful of their animals. But they've changed the show overall. The tigers and everything else are completely gone.”

Even the back of the program stresses the animal-friendly atmosphere.

“We love our animals,” the program says. “They are our friends, fellow performers, and are very important members of our team.”

The blurb explains how six employees are dedicated strictly to the care, comfort and welfare of the animal performers; that animals are examined by a vet every 30 days; and that the circus is inspected frequently by the USDA, state and local authorities.

An elephant remains among the dogs, ponies, a goat, llama and a math-whiz zebra.

Spring Lake resident Beck Jurecko, 6, enjoyed riding a camel outside of the one-ring circus during intermission. He said his favorite part of the ride was when the camel's route took him behind the tent where the other animals were hanging out, awaiting their time in the spotlight.

“It feels funny (riding a camel), but I like it because I got to see all the other animals,” said Beck, who starts kindergarten at Holmes Elementary School in less than two weeks. “I also liked it when the elephant came in.”

Cayden Cremer, 5, of West Olive, who will also be a kindergartner at Holmes, shared Beck’s fondness for Anna Louise, the elephant.

“I liked getting a light-up sword (souvenir) and I really liked the elephant,” Cayden said.

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