Circus boss drugs performing dogs

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

By Cormac McQuinn

A circus boss has admitted drugging his performing dogs to smuggle them from Germany to Ireland after customs officers stopped him when one woke and started barking, the Irish Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Martin Scholl last year appeared in a British court facing two counts of animal trafficking and two counts of animal cruelty when he tried to drive two sedated dogs off a boat from France in boxes in his horse lorry.

Martin, who goes by the name ‘Martino’ in his performances, is the brother of Alexander Scholl, the owner of Circus Sydney, which has been in Tallaght for the past two weeks.

Management at the circus, which was at the centre of last year’s ‘llama drama’ when some of its animals escaped from their enclosures to wander onto Dublin’s M50, have defended its animal rights record in light of new charges of animal cruelty.

German Martin Scholl, 36, last week branded the charges as ‘silly’ while denying any mistreatment of the animals he says he ‘loves like his own family’.

A source told how in February 2009, Mr Scholl was stopped by customs officers at Dover when he was driving to Ireland from his native Germany with horses for the Circus Sydney show.

Officers found two apparently drugged dogs in boxes when one of the animals woke up and started barking.

Mr Scholl was detained and the following month appeared in court facing two counts of ‘unlawful landing of an animal in Great Britain’ and two more counts of ‘an act resulting in animal suffering’.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that Mr Scholl pleaded guilty to the charges of animal trafficking but was cleared of the cruelty charges in a hearing last November.

Mr Scholl was handed down an eight-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, fined £800 and ordered to pay costs of £200.

When approached at the circus in Tallaght, Mr Scholl was forthright about his clash with UK customs, saying: ‘To me it was very silly what happened. The police made me feel like a gangster.

‘There was a problem with the [rabies] vaccination forms for one of the dogs. The vet made a mistake when they filled it in. I got the vet to fax the correct paperwork to the British police but they wouldn’t accept it.’

Asked if he drugged the dogs, Mr Scholl said: ‘I gave them some tablets to keep them quiet and relaxed and to help with motion sickness on the boat. But there is nothing bad about this – you can buy these tablets in any pet shop.’

However, Mr Scholl could not remember the name of the drug he gave to the dogs.

He added: ‘I care about my animals. I had my sister-in-law bring the dogs to her home in the Netherlands. It would have been easier just to leave them somewhere.

‘I am eighth-generation circus family, I grew up with animals and I’ve taken care of them all my life and love them like my own family.’

Following last year’s incident in which llamas escaped through a fence, causing traffic chaos on the M50, and after campaigns by animal rights groups, the circus operators are very sensitive to accusations of animal cruelty.

Yvette Scholl, wife of ringmaster Alexander, complained: ‘People always pick on circuses. What about the farmers that transport animals, and the horse racing industry.

‘When people bring animals on the plane they’re in small boxes – have you seen the size of the boxes they’re in?

‘It’s easy to pick on us. We’re just a small minority and it’s so easy to try and pick on us. Why not horse races? That’s cruelty in many ways.’

Asked what happened to the llamas after last year’s break out, she said she didn’t know.

South Dublin County Council had levied a fine of euro 5,500 for the return of the animals, but Mrs Scholl said: ‘We don’t have that kind of money in our back pocket.’

What can you do

– Boycott circuses with performing animals

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– Write to your Assembly Member/TD, asking them to support a ban animal use in circuses. Contact details can be found HERE for Republic of Ireland and HERE for Northern Ireland

– Write to your local newspaper highlighting what is wrong with circuses.

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