A Weatherly resident is one of five witnesses mentioned in a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation (PETA) against the Kelly Miller Circus for animal abuse and neglect.

According to the complaint, Kelly Miller Circus handlers Carolyn Rice and Ryan Easley routinely physically abused animals during performances, restrained animals in a manner that prevented the animals from walking or resting comfortably and may have used water deprivation to train the circus's tigers.

Witnesses also claimed to have observed two elephants leased to the circus by Carson & Barnes to be in need of medical attention.

The witness from Weatherly, who has not been identified to the press, claims he or she observed multiple animals struck with hands, sticks, and whips by the Kelly Miller circus employees as well as being harshly restrained.

The circus had done a performance in Weatherly on June 21.

In the complaint, he or she reports, "at one point, the handler whipped a zebra near his or her face, and at another point, a zebra stumbled because of the lash he or she received from the handler," and claims one of the circus's elephants was in poor medical condition.

Jim Royal, general manger of the Kelly Miller Circus, denied this abuse and said in an email that the circus animals, including the elephants, were given a medical examination by veterinarians on June 25. Royal said the medical examinations are routine procedure for the circus, occurring every 30 days.

Royal also noted that one day after the circus visited Weatherly, the New Jersey SPCA conducted a surprise inspection of the circus on June 22 and reported the circus to be operating safely and humanely.

"I am confident that the fine people of the NJ SPCA are quite capable of spotting evidence of animal abuse," said Royal.

Royal said PETA operates under the "technique of modern politics" and the organization makes accusations regardless of whether there is truth behind the claims.

"It is interesting to note that during the time period mentioned by PETA, literally thousands of people attended our performances, came early to watch the circus arrive and see the animals unloaded, fed and watered, and wandered around the circus grounds throughout the day," said Royal.

Adding, "Did they report anything? No, because nothing happened."

In response to Royal's comment, a spokesman for PETA said, "PETA received multiple reports of handlers abusively and aggressively whipping zebras repeatedly, striking a dog, a baby goat and a tiger all in their faces because they didn't comply to orders quickly enough. The reports were from five different cities. They were completely independent and this abuse appears to be par for the course of the Kelly Miller circus."