Naked Jungle

PETA's a no-show for a much-hyped cage match with Barnum & Bailey

When PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) calls, The Spike gets visions of veggie burgers and rabid protesters throwing paint on fur. Yawn.

But The Spike was actually intrigued by the latest stunt from the PETA people. Brandi Valladolid, a Scottsdale native and PETA activist, was going to be naked, body painted, and in a cage on Van Buren Street, near the Arizona Center, to protest the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This, The Spike had to see.

Brandi became famous in PETA circles (and elsewhere) for being naked in a cage outside the White House. According to PETA's press release, the 24-year-old does double duty as a PETA "Lettuce Lady," handing out veggie burgers on the streets of New York and Philadelphia clad only in strategically placed lettuce.

So when the press advisory that Brandi was making the protest circuit here in Phoenix landed on The Spike's desk, The Spike called PETA spokeswoman Talithia Grant to set up an interview. The meeting was set, reset, reset again, and finally looked like a go. The Spike was to watch Brandi The Naked Tiger Girl prowl around in the cage (or whatever she does), then take her to lunch for the interview. Just like a real celebrity profile.

Where, The Spike wondered, was it appropriate to lunch with a PETA protester? Certainly not McDonald's, the target of recent PETA protests. Is there a PETA-friendly restaurant, or would Brandi The Naked Tiger Girl be okay with the vegetarian options on a regular menu?

The Spike was in a quandary, so decided to take The Naked Tiger Girl to a soup and salad place and order something completely non-offensive, even to the most PETA of PETA people.

But what if Brandi The Naked Tiger Girl still insisted on wearing nothing but the body paint? While The Spike encourages naked people in cages, lunching with one is quite another issue. Especially since it's been 112 degrees outside and body paint is likely to melt at that temperature, or be washed away by the misters at the nearby Hooters restaurant.

So The Spike waited for the PETA protester outside Hooters on Third Street and Van Buren, which The Spike found especially appropriate, since Hooters obviously shares PETA's love of animals.

It turned out that The Spike's worry about lunch and public nudity was all for naught — Brandi The Naked Tiger Girl never showed, either to protest or to eat. The Spike was left, alone in the Hooters mist, searching in vain for a painted naked girl in a cage. Bummer.

Where was the ethical treatment of The Spike?

After waiting for an hour in the sweltering sun, The Spike gave up and went to lunch — alone (sob) — at Pizzeria Uno, where The Spike ate a nice, juicy burger with cheese and bacon just to make a point. (Ethical or not, the burger was great.)

The Spike finally caught up with Talithia Grant after lunch. It seems the organization had canceled Brandi The Naked Tiger Girl "out of respect for the fire." Yeah. Tell that to McDonald's.

Since PETA didn't show, there was nothing to be done other than for The Spike to actually attend the circus. Taking a friend's 5-year-old son in order to remain incognito, The Spike got into the spirit and bought some twirly light apparatuses that The Spike is pretty sure weren't really meant for children.

The rented 5-year-old probably would have liked seeing a (naked) tiger girl in a cage, but was equally happy playing with the twirly lights. He loved the zebras.

Still no PETA, but The Spike did run into a handful of ADLA (Animal Defense League of Arizona) protesters outside, who told The Spike that PETA had canceled circus protests in Arizona because: "They didn't think they'd get enough press with the fires going on."

Aha. So, when PETA says "respect," it means "envy."

According to ADLA's Alethea White, there was no official PETA presence at the circus, though she is a member of PETA, too.

The ADLA protesters were very nice to The Spike, giving out handfuls of literature, most of which had nothing to do with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. They also had a propaganda-style comic book for the rented 5-year-old. But they were not strong enough in number to make their presence felt. The Spike thought the whole affair seemed phoned in.

According to John Kirtland, the executive director of animal stewardship for Feld Entertainment (which runs Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Bros.), the circus trains the animals using positive reinforcement. "If your dog sits, you give it a treat, and it learns to sit."

"That's how we train the elephants," he claims.

And as for elephants being a risk to public safety, Kirtland says that in 132 years, the circus has had no injuries.

The Spike wonders why, then, PETA is so upset at Barnum & Bailey. Kirtland had a theory: "They're a hate group. They hate people. They want to tell us what we can eat, wear and enjoy."

All The Spike can say is that the circus was, in fact, the "Greatest Show on Earth." Or at least, one of the better ones. And alleged evildoing aside, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is really more human than animal now anyway.

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