The star attraction

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Elephant handler Joey Frisco holds the microphone as “Cindy,” a 45- year-old Indian elephant plays the harmonica. (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Animal rights protesters stand outside the entrance to the Kelly Miller circus on opening night in Bristol on Wednesday. (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)


Elephants draw fans, protesters as circus comes to Bristol


BRISTOL — The circus was in town, and so were the protesters who complain about using elephants to entertain the crowd.
The Oklahoma-based Kelly Miller Circus, founded in 1938, had performances in Bristol’s Kelley Park on Wednesday and Thursday.
Kristina Snyder of Chester, a member of the New Hampshire Animal Rights League, was among a half-dozen protesters at the park. She said elephants evolved to roam over hundreds of miles and have a complicated social structure. It’s not right to truck them from town to town and make them perform, she said.
“We are especially distressed at their continued use of elephants,” she said. “The Ringling Circus retired their elephants and now they are closed for good. These even smaller, more abusive venues, like Kelly Miller Circus need to do the same,” said Snyder. “We’re just basically saying, ‘Look, you know how intelligent those animals are? You know what their social structures are? The bonds they have with their children. Their gestation period is two years, and those babies are often taken right after they are born and then they are, like, broken in because they need to be tamed. I’ve watched how they tame these elephants and it is pretty horrific.”
Representatives of the Kelly Miller Circus say the animals get the highest level of care and said protesters who show up at many of their shows are sorely misinformed.
Ringmaster Rebecca Ostroff said the stop in Bristol is part of a 420-show, 33-week tour that takes the circus across the country. In addition to two elephants, the 53-person circus has two camels, a zebra, a mule and ponies. It also has acrobats (including a woman who shoots a bow and arrow with her feet during an aerial move), a clown, a woman who performs an act with multiple hula hoops and a cowboy performing with a lasso.
But it’s the two Asian elephants – Jenny and Cindy – who get most of the interest. Before the show, they stood in an area enclosed by electrified wire. Children threw baby carrots to them. The huge animals have the dexterity to pick up the small vegetables with their trunk and toss them into their mouths.
As the final act in the show, the elephants entered, a showgirl in a red costume was atop each of the animals, which stood on stools, reared back and kneeled low. Cindy played the harmonica. When they left the stage, one was holding the other’s tail with its trunk.
After the show, one of the elephants made a high-pitched sound as the trainer took off the headgear that was placed on its head for the show.
“We have a veterinarian,” Ostroff said. “The USDA comes whenever they want. You do what you are supposed to do, whether you are a farmer who uses animals, a horse rider, if you have a dog show, if you find a cat at a pound.
“Our animals happen to be very large. We are with them all the time. We have proper animal husbandry and they perform. We do just the thing that you are allowed to do.”
Elephant trainer Joey Frisco said the elephants are like family to him.
“I grew up around Jenny since I was a month old,” he said. “My grandfather and my father were taking care of her. And then Cindy, since I was 12, so it’s not really just a job, it’s a family member. Now myself, my wife, my five kids get to spend every day with them.”
Jenny is 51 and Cindy is 45. They were probably first imported into the United States from a life in Thai logging camps. Elephants can no longer be brought into the states for use in circuses or zoos.
Frisco said he or his wife are with the elephants all the time while the show is on the road. They try to give the elephants things to do as they can.
“We’re kind of in a school area here so we can’t really walk them around and do different things with them, but behind the scenes we can take them out, take them in the water, take them in the woods and do things,” he said.
He said 80 to 85 percent of the job of working with elephants is achieved through voice commands. Elephant handlers also use bullhooks, or a hook attached to a handle that can be used to encourage or goad the animal into a specific action. He called the tool a “guide,” and said it was similar to a leash on a dog or reins on a horse.
Frisco said there is unreasonable criticism of the bullhook.
“You put a collar around a dog’s neck and you attach a line behind it, and to get it to listen, you choke it,” he said. “That’s OK, but if I have a stick in my hand and say ‘Steady,” or touch them and say, ‘Stop. No,’ that’s a problem for an 8,000 pound animal.
“But you cannot move elephants without them in free contact because if something scares them, you have to pull them to you.”
Frisco said he has a good relationship with the animals.
“These girls are seasoned, they have been around for a while and they have seen a lot of different things,” he said. “They enjoy being around. They enjoy meeting different people.”
He said the interactions they have with people on the road as well as the things they see and do provide a level of mental stimulation that helps keep them healthy.
Frisco used to work with Ringling Brothers, the biggest name in the circus industry before it went out of business recently. The high costs of running a circus together with a decline in ticket sales contributed to that company’s problems, which accelerated after it decided to end its use of elephants amid public complaints.
The tent the Kelly Miller Circus set up in Bristol was big enough to hold 1,100 people, but fewer than 300 attended the show Wednesday. The circus will perform in North Andover, Massachusetts, on Friday.

Hostel business off to slow start for Belknap House’s first summer


LACONIA — The Belknap House, a cold-weather homeless shelter that generates revenue as a hostel during warm months, has seen a lack of paying customers this summer. Organizers are wondering if reservations will pick up over time or if the nonprofit needs to change its operational model.

The building at 200 Court St., which has 19 beds, was empty Thursday and has hosted only about a dozen guests since it transitioned to a hostel on May 21, Executive Director Kathryn Holt said.

“It's not as busy as we had hoped,” Holt said. “It's been kind of slow.”

Belknap House opened on Feb. 28 and got good use as a homeless shelter for people in Laconia and surrounding communities. The idea was that it would morph into a money-making hostel in the spring before turning back into a shelter on Oct. 16.
Income from the hostel would support the shelter.

“That income is not going to be what we had hoped for,” Holt said. “We are having a couple of fundraising events coming up and are seeking donations, sponsorships and grants.”

Colleen Garrity, board president for the non-profit that operates Belknap House, said the lack of guests this summer may be typical for the first months of any new operation in the accommodations industry.

She said it's too soon to say there's a problem with the concept of operating a facility that provides rooms for the homeless over the winter and for paying guests during the summer.

“It's expected to be slow your first year,” Garrity said.

The shelter opened a couple months later than planned last winter due to abatement work for lead and asbestos.

“There was so much emphasis and work toward getting it open,” Garrity said. “After that, we finally started focusing on the hostel piece, and we were probably a little too late in doing that.”

Once the word gets around about the hostel, the proximity it has to attractions and its low price, it may see more success, she said. The rate is $30 per bed. There are six bedrooms, four bathrooms and a kitchen with two cooking stations.

“Time will tell if this model that we've chosen is for the best,” Garrity said. “If it doesn't work, we will make changes.”

She doesn't think potential hostel guests are put off at the idea of staying at a place that serves the homeless for half the year.

“Ninety percent of the bookings are coming through,” she said. “Anybody who is booking through an online travel agency like that wouldn't even know it's a shelter in the wintertime.”

Garrity said the idea of operating as a hostel part of the year resolves two problems: A need for revenue to offset expenses and decreased demand for shelter space during warm-weather months.

Revenue is needed in part to pay a monthly mortgage on the commercial building that was converted into the shelter. The non-profit raised $200,000 to get the shelter opened. Much of the money was used for extensive renovations. A smaller amount was used for a down payment on a loan to buy the $150,000 property.

“We purchased the building and had to put an enormous amount of funds into it to make it habitable and make it safe for anyone staying there,” Garrity said.

“We have a mortgage we have to pay every month, but the idea of a hostel was not just to help cover the mortgage, but to raise revenue to help families in the fall.”

When operating as a shelter, the facility is geared for people to stay no more than three weeks. It takes referrals from welfare offices in Belknap County towns and cities. A family support coordinator works with residents to help them find employment and permanent housing.

Garrity said she would like to see the homeless population eventually decrease to a point that the shelter is no longer needed.

“I would hope there may be a time when we might just open as a hostel all year long because we don't have that many homeless families,” she said.

However, she said there is typically a major upswing in the need for emergency housing starting in October. Rents are high in this region compared to the income most people earn.

Meanwhile, overall homelessness appears to be declining in the state and regionally.

The New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness found in its most recent yearly report that the homeless population statewide was down 19 percent over the last four years. In Belknap County, it was down 13 percent.

The Belknap House has two fundraising events planned. A golf tournament is set for Aug. 21 at Lochmere Golf and Country Club in Tilton. A masquerade pumpkin ball is scheduled for Oct. 13 at St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall in Laconia.

Outreach programs providing services to the homeless can be accessed by calling 211.

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Kathryn Holt, executive director of The Belknap House in Laconia, said that their 19 beds have been mostly unused so far this summer, when the nonprofit organization hopes to generate revenue as a hostel to pay for its expenses and programs in the winter, when it operates as a homeless shelter. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Another hole found in county budget

Belknap County commissioners find $135,000 gap in nursing home line; with no action new corrections center is ‘dead in the water’


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners found out last week that another hole exists in the county budget when they received word that the $6.2 million budgeted for Health and Human Services is $135,000 lower than the state of New Hampshire says the county must pay.
The Health and Human Services budget covers the cost of nursing home care for county residents in private nursing homes.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said prior to Thursday evening’s meeting of the commissioners that a request for a supplemental appropriation might be considered.
The issue is certain to come up at Monday morning’s meeting of the Belknap County Delegation’s Executive Committee, which will be conducting a quarterly review of the county budget.
Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) has said the committee will review the budget and has not ruled out the possibility that the delegation may revisit the commissioner’s request for reconsideration of a $229,500 supplemental appropriation.
That request included $136,500 for the Corrections Department and $93,000 for the Sheriff’s Department and was defeated on a 7-7 tie vote on May 22. Vadney after the vote seemed to signal that it would be taken up again in two weeks. But he did not respond to a written request from the commission to reconsider it when the delegation met last week.
Commissioners meanwhile have been reluctant to take action on the hiring of four correctional officers that Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray deems essential to opening the new $8 million Community Corrections Center.
“The project is dead in the water. The corrections center is virtually complete, but we don’t have the funds to staff it,” said DeVoy.
In addition, the county budget already faces a $290,810 shortfall on the revenue side as it included funds from HB413, which would have had the state pay part of the county’s retirement costs, but was not included in the state budget which was approved late last month.
This year’s budget process has been a tangled one, going back to last November when the first draft of the budget which the commissioners approved ended up having to be reworked because it included funds from the county fund balance as revenues twice.
Commissioners DeVoy and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) eventually agreed to a proposed $28,034,331 budget which would have seen the amount to be raised by property taxes revert to the $13,837,174 the same amount it was in 2015. In order to keep the increase to that level, the two commissioners agreed to use $2,183,657 from the undesignated fund balance, which would have increased the amount to be raised by taxes by 6.31 percent.
But members of the delegation raised questions about the information they were receiving from commissioners after they announced in late January that the fund balance was expected to be $850,000 higher than was projected just two weeks earlier. Commissioner DeVoy said that the increase was due to a recalculation by Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett of operational savings last year, which were originally projected at $250,000, but were expected to reach $1.1 million.
The skepticism on the delegation about the accuracy of the budget worksheet numbers they were receiving led to commissioners defending Shackett by saying that she was doing the work of three people and supporting her recommendation that the county hire a human resources director for $65,540.
That was one of the first positions cut from the budget by the delegation once it started a line item review of the budget in late January after commissioners objected to a proposal by Vadney that the delegation simply set a bottom line number for the budget and let the commissioners decide where to make cuts.
When the review was more than halfway completed and the delegation had identified less than $200,000 in cuts, Vadney switched tactics. After saying the commissioners were dragging out the process so that the delegation couldn’t act in time and the commissioners budget would be adopted by default, he allowed delegation members to introduce motions which would establish a bottom line.
In early March the delegation voted 9-6 to cut the proposed $28 million county budget by over a half-million dollars and to maintain the amount to be raised from country taxpayers at same level as last year, $12,963,440.
The action came on a motion offered by Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith) to cut $545,804 from the budget, reducing it to $27,487,463, some $200,000 lower than had been proposed by Rep. Roy Howard (R-Alton) the previous week, a move which had been rejected by a 7-6 vote of the delegation.
Abear’s budget cuts $126,736 from the Sheriff’s Department, eliminating overtime, one deputy and one dispatcher, and cut $44,562 from the Belknap County Nursing Home for an activities position.
It also cut $40,000 from the dietary department at the Belknap County House of Corrections and over $100,000 for the hiring of four Department of Corrections officers.
It also reduced outside agency funding by over $160,000. The Belknap County Economic Development Council was cut from $75,000 to $1, Genesis Behavioral Health was reduced from $31,425 to $1, the Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center from $11,000 to $1 and Community Action Program funding was cut by $13,000 with cuts for family planing. The Belknap County Conservation District was cut from $92,400 to $60,000.
The delegation waited until the following week before voting to accept Abear’s revenue numbers, which included $290,810 from HB 413, which the county will not receive.
Delegation members who supported Abear’s budget have maintained that there is enough money in the overall budget to allow commissioners to hire four corrections officers by moving funds around. But commissioners say the money simply isn’t there and have said that they will have to consider stopping work which was planned on the current jail and moving some prisoners to other counties at a cost of $34,500 a month.
The latest date at which work can be stopped and the present jail still able to hold most prisoners is Aug. 15.