The Zerbini Family Circus was not granted a permit to operate in Rockland and will instead go on in Thomaston. Credit: Courtesy of Zerbini Family Circus

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Zerbini Family Circus is putting on a number of performances across the state this month. But on Tuesday night, Rockland officials rejected the circus’ permit application to operate, preventing the show from going on in that city.

The permit rejection comes just a week before two scheduled performances by the circus July 24 and 25 in one of Rockland’s waterfront parks. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Zerbini Family Circus performances scheduled for Rockland have been moved to Thomaston.

The Rockland City Council held a special meeting Tuesday night to review a permit request from the Zerbini Family Circus. Melody Ramirez, the circus’ ringmaster, said the company was asked to file a permit July 9, despite in January filling out an application for use of the park this month.

Prior to Tuesday’s council vote on the permit, two people voiced concerns about the treatment of animals by circus productions and claimed that the Zerbini Family Circus had a poor track record.

However, Ramirez claims the concerns brought forth were in relation to another circus with a similar name and not the Zerbini Family Circus. The Zerbini Family Circus uses dogs, ponies and miniature donkeys. Ramirez said the circus has never had wild animals.

“This is devastating to us. We’ve already invested a lot of money, but that’s the least of our problems. Our name is being dragged through the mud. We don’t own tigers. We don’t own elephants. We don’t own bears,” Ramirez said.

Reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on the Zerbini Family Circus were not immediately available Wednesday.

Alain Zerbini and Leticia Zerbini, Ramirez’s parents, are the owners of the Zerbini Family Circus. Ramirez said her family’s history in the circus entertainment business goes back 250 years. In the 1990s, the family’s circus came to the United States from France.

City Councilors Amelia Magjik, Benjamin Dorr and Valli Geiger voted against granting the Zerbini Family Circus a permit to operate its show in Rockland. Mayor Lisa Westkaemper and Ed Glaser voted to grant the permit.

Ramirez said the circus has been planning its trip to Maine for a year and was under the impression that the paperwork and applications filled out in January gave it the authorization to perform in the city.

However, Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell said in an email Wednesday that the City Council needed to approve a permit. Luttrell said the permit was an “oversight and once noticed it was taken to council, hence the delay in getting it in front of council.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday morning, the Zerbini Family Circus asked members of the public to lobby city councilors to find an agreement that would let the show go on in Rockland. The circus maintained that its handlers treat performing animals well.

“[The City Council] didn’t even give us the option to perform in Rockland last minute without any animals in the performance the only animals that we have in the show are ponies, dogs and miniature donkeys, and we can assure you that they are loved and well taken care of. They are a part of our family,” the post read.

Ramirez said people are entitled to their opinions on whether animals should be involved with circuses. However, she also said that “the public has the right to go to see whatever type of entertainment they would like to see.”

Without being given notice that the permit application was going to come up at Tuesday’s night council meeting, Ramirez said her family members were unable to defend themselves against the allegations.

The circus was set to take place in Rockland just a week before the city’s signature event, the Maine Lobster Festival. With animal rights activists frequently protesting that festival, Ramirez said it was ironic that the city rejected the circus permit based on the use of circus animals.

“If they’re against animals in the circus, they should cancel their lobster [festival]. Those animals are being killed for pleasure. So it makes no sense,” she said.

After seeing that the circus would not be going on in Rockland, Ramirez said officials in neighboring town of Thomaston reached out to the circus and offered the use of the former Lura Libby School grounds.

This is the second or third year the Florida-based Zerbini Family Circus has come to Maine, Ramirez said. Performances are scheduled in Topsham, Wiscasset, Phippsburg, Minot, Dover-Foxcroft and Cumberland.