Local rescue to Ringling: We'll take your cats

- After 146 years, Florida-based Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus will close the curtains for good -- an announcement animal welfare groups are celebrating.

"After 36 years of protests, #RinglingBros Circus will shut down in May. Thank you to all who spoke out!" PETA said through its Twitter account Saturday.

Big Cat Rescue in Tampa has helped re-home numerous former circus cats. They say many of these animals show signs of abuse.

"The cats that do come to us from circuses are quite often more timid and afraid. They cower if you even raise a hand over your head," said spokesman Susan Bass. "It's very sad that they would be afraid. They're the top of the food chain. They're the alpha predator and to see them cower and be afraid and unable to use their natural instincts and movements is very sad."

Bass says Ringling's end could be a big opportunity for the circus' wild animals.

"Our founder has reached out to Ringling and has offered to help take in some of the cats and help re-home others to accredited sanctuaries around the country," said Bass.

Just last year, Ringling announced it would retire its elephants, a move the company is now blaming for its drop in attendance. Animal advocates, however, say animals and the circus don't have to, and shouldn't, go hand in paw.

"We would definitely like to see all circuses that have wild animals retire their animals to accredited sanctuaries and continue on with entertainment that people enjoy. Look at Cirque du Soleil. They don't have any wild animals and yet they are thriving," continued Bass.

Ringling Brothers has said its animals will go to new homes, but has yet to announce whether that will mean new homes in sanctuaries like Big Cat Rescue or on the road as part of another traveling circus. 

MORE RINGLING BROS. CIRCUS COVERAGE:

- Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years
- Inside look: Where Ringling's elephants retire
- What happens between now and Ringling's closure?
- Circus performers show attitude of perseverance
- Ringling history: From freak shows to the big top
- Rescue group to Ringling: We'll take your cats
- Old Ringling circus train car to get new life

- From 1984: Circus opens show marking 100 years
- From 1987: 'King Tusk' highlights the circus
- From 1987: Circus train arrives in St. Pete
- From 1986: Kenneth Feld brings circus St. Pete

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