GAITHERSBURG -- An animal rights group condemned the organizers of the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair on Wednesday for hosting an exhibit with caged lions and tigers.
The Fund for Animals, an animal advocacy group based in Silver Spring, took issue with Kay Rosaire's Big Cat Encounter, which includes three lions and three tigers on display this week at the fair.
"We really feel that wild animals do not belong at the fair," said Andi Bernat, program director of the Fund for Animals. "They are usually transported in small cages for a long time and spend a lot of time on the road. And, they perform shows for which they receive inhuman training."
However, fair organizers and exhibitors say no animals are mistreated on the fairgrounds.
"This organization would not condone mistreatment of animals in any way. We would address it right away," said Randy Fox, executive director of the Montgomery County Agricultural Center Inc., which operates the fair.
"There is no reason to think that there is any mistreatment."
Mr. Fox said he had not seen any protesters from the group at the fair and the show has received warm praise from the crowds.
Kay Rosaire's Big Cat Encounter includes three lions and three tigers, performing tricks three times a day with their trainer, Clayton Rosaire-Mowrey, to an audience of awestruck children at the fair this week.
In between shows Thursday afternoon, the lions and tigers slept in cages, which were only slightly longer than their body length but "government approved." Fans blew on the felines as they lounged.
"Those animal rights people don't know anything," said Jim Rosaire-Mowrey, Clayton's father, who helps with the show. (The family's real last name is Mowrey, but their show name is Rosaire)
"They say they love animals. I love animals too. I would never mistreat them ... I lived in the jungle. I know what these animals need."
The felines are six of 30 cats that live on a 30-acre sanctuary in Sarasota, Fla., called the "Big Cat Habitat." Mr. Rosaire-Mowrey, who runs the refuge, said the felines have spacious pens and a beautiful habitat with palm trees as well as swimming pools.
He said most of the cats at the sanctuary originally were strays, rescued from owners who bought the felines without a proper license or realistic expectations. In fact, Mr. Rosaire-Mowrey said they no longer breed the animals and may start taking in other retired circus animals.
When the cats aren't at their Florida home, they are on tour traveling to fairs, like this one. Mr. Rosaire-Mowrey said the cats are on display for about six months each year, but not continuously. Each fair usually lasts about a week and the group travels about 200 miles to get to the next location.
Mr. Rosaire-Mowrey said the family owns all of their equipment, which allows them to stop and feed the cats frequently during travel.
While the family touted their animal-friendly ways, Ms. Bernat said Kay Rosaire-Mowrey, Clayton's mother, has been cited for violations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In 1999, Ms. Rosaire-Mowrey worked as a cat exhibitor for the UniverSoul Circus. She was cited by the USDA for failure to provide proper veterinary care and for cage that did not meet minimal size requirements.
Mr. Rosaire-Mowrey said the act is constantly being inspected by the government and some of the requirements are very picky.
"You can get a violation for not having a lid on the saw dust bin," he said. "Sometimes the regulations are a joke, if you ask me."
Not only does Ms. Bernat worry about the treatment of these exotic animals, she is concerned fair officials are putting visitors at risk.
"People unfortunately trust that these exotic animals can be domesticated when in fact, the animals often retain their wild instincts," she said.
According to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, since 1990, captive tigers killed two children and six adults. About 60 others have been seriously injured, the group said.
Mr. Fox said all the lions and tigers are properly caged and cannot escape to hurt fairgoers.
The Fund for Animals also takes issue with pig racing, another fair attraction.
"It's just one of those things that exploits animals for people's entertainment," said Heidi Prescott, national director of the Fund for Animals. "... It is teaching people that pigs are there to laugh at and entertain them. These animals deserve better than that."
John Monroe, who owns and operates Barnyard Runners, said his pigs are cared for and treated very well. He has 11 piglets in all, but only four pigs run each race, which last about five minutes.
"When they race, it is play time for them," Mr. Monroe said. "When they are done, they get washed down and feed. ... It is completely safe."
Pat Rooney, superintendent of the goat exhibit, agreed that no animals are mistreated, even the exotic animals.
"They enjoy those animals and take excellent care of them," said Mr. Rooney, who used to run a 350-goat dairy.
"Some of these animals cost a lot of money so their owners take good care of them, (they) don't want anything to happen to them."