OWATONNA — Fire Commander Marlin Kath has done many things in his 20-plus years as a firefighter, but one thing he hadn’t done is give an elephant a bath.
As of Thursday, Kath can cross that off his list, as a crew from the Owatonna Fire Department showed up to help the Carson & Barnes Circus prepare its three Asian elephants — Lisa, 33; Tracy, 32; and Becky, 38 — for the first of two nights of shows in Owatonna. Show times for both Thursday and Friday are 4:30 and 7:30 p.m., and the elephants will be getting a second bath Friday at 3 p.m., which also is open to the public.
“They’ve been in touch with the chief, asking if we wanted to take part,” Kath said before the show. “We’re here right now but we could leave at any time, so no promise yet we’ll give an elephant bath today.”
Fortunately, no fires were reported, and so the elephants were treated to thorough sprayings courtesy of the department’s 1,000-gallon pumper truck. Firefighters Dalton Wanous, Justin Brown and Matt Halverson took turns circling the huge creatures, taking care that every inch was thoroughly soaked.
Leading the elephants out as their turns came was Armando Loyal of Hugo, Oklahoma. Loyal is the head elephant handler for the circus, and says he’s been around the elephants his entire life.
“My family’s been in the circus for nine generations,” he said.
That includes his seven children, although not all are with Carson & Barnes. In total, he said slightly more than 100 circus workers were on-site Thursday, ranging from acrobats and clowns to cooks and mechanics. And, of course, the animal handlers.
When the circus isn’t traveling, which is most of the winter and early spring, Loyal said the elephants stay on a ranch in Oklahoma, having the run of 400 acres along with other elephants now retired from the circus business.
“The money we get, doing rides and shows, we put back into the ranch,” he said. “These girls will have a place to retire.”
Loyal said the high point of the show for him is seeing how audiences react to the elephants.
“You get the biggest kick when you see the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Loyal said.
Nor is it just children who get a kick out of the animals.
“Two days ago, a 98-year-old lady came to our circus, and one of her dreams was to ride an elephant, so we helped her with that,” Loyal said. “The look on her face … ecstatic. Happier than the kids.”