Spectators view a new barn — but when’s the elephant coming to Hope?

Posted Dec. 27, 2011, at 6:53 p.m.
 Shea MacMillan, 3, excitedly jumped up and down as he clutched onto steel wires in a new elephant barn in Hope and looked at a stuffed animal that was in the pen. According to MacMillan's uncle, the 3-year-old has been wearing his Halloween elephant costume sporadically since October.
Heather Steeves | BDN
Shea MacMillan, 3, excitedly jumped up and down as he clutched onto steel wires in a new elephant barn in Hope and looked at a stuffed animal that was in the pen. According to MacMillan's uncle, the 3-year-old has been wearing his Halloween elephant costume sporadically since October. Buy Photo
Jim Laurita of Hope, a veterinarian, spoke to a group of locals at an open house at his newly built elephant barn on Tuesday.
Heather Steeves | BDN
Jim Laurita of Hope, a veterinarian, spoke to a group of locals at an open house at his newly built elephant barn on Tuesday. Buy Photo

HOPE, Maine — More than 100 people wandered about a new barn here to hear about Rosie, a 42-year-old elephant that soon might move into a stall — but the No. 1 question still goes unanswered: When will she be here?

“We don’t have a date yet. It’s torture. Dealing with the government is like running through syrup,” said Jim Laurita, a veterinarian who is working to bring Rosie to his home.

So far he has permission from the town. But state and federal licenses for the animal depended on the barn being built. Now that it’s just about complete, Laurita can move forward with those applications.

Rosie suffers from arthritis. Rather than let her live out her days in Oklahoma with a herd of 27 other elephants from the Carson and Barnes Circus, Laurita and the circus have a new idea: Send Rosie to Maine and use her as a sort of experiment in elephant physical therapy. Laurita then will share any tactics that work with circus trainers to help with any future bouts of arthritis in the herd.

To do this, Laurita set up a nonprofit group, Hope Elephants, to raise donations to build the barn and pay for Rosie’s travel and expenses. On Tuesday, he let the public explore his new stable and paddock.

The barn will give Rosie about 1,200 square feet to live in. It’s on a radiant-heated slab that will keep her warm and ease the pain of her arthritis, Laurita said. Inside the barn, Rosie’s stall is walled in with three tiers of half-inch steel cables secured to steel pipes that are sunk into a concrete floor.

“It’s elephant-ready now,” Laurita said, standing in the sand-filled pen.

In the middle of the indoor paddock is a large pile of sand. Rosie likes to lie on a hillside. It makes it easier for her to get up, Laurita said. This will allow her to do that indoors. If for some reason she can’t get up, the barn has a built-in overhead crane that attaches to a rubbery, inflatable mat that can be used to help lift Rosie onto her feet, he said.

A garage-style door gives Rosie access to a 1-acre paddock with apple trees. It’s not unlike a horse paddock except that instead of an electric fence, the elephant will have to contend with steel cables and a green chain-link fence if she attempts to escape.

Most of the people who walked through the indoor pen and poked around outside were supportive of Laurita’s attempts to bring Rosie to Maine.

“It’s fantastic to know this is happening in Maine, right here,” said Carol Lally of Belfast as she stood outside in the snow looking at the elephant pasture. She is especially excited for her 9-year-old grandson, who attends a local school. Laurita’s plan is to invite local schoolchildren to the barn to learn about elephants.

David Jacobson of Montville was another avid supporter at Tuesday’s open house.

“I think it’s fascinating. It’s such an odd thing, a radical idea,” he said. “She will get first-class care here and it’s great for the community and maybe for the economy.”

Perhaps the biggest supporters were the many visiting children, who screamed for elephant-shaped cookies. One child dressed up in his Halloween elephant costume jumped up and down excitedly, clinging to a steel wire on the outside of the pen.

“I like elephants,” said Elizabeth Bowman, 7, who has never seen a real elephant. “We could take care of it.”

Some people don’t think so.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been skeptical of the size of the paddock and the climate in Maine. The nonprofit In Defense of Animals wrote to Gov. Paul LePage asking him not to allow the project to proceed for the same reasons.

Barbara Faviccha of Camden is another skeptic.

“It’s tiny,” Faviccha said after visiting the barn on Tuesday. “That’s what bothered me the most. The space is so inadequate.”

Faviccha also was concerned that Rosie would be lonely, because elephants are herd animals.

Laurita has dismissed all of these concerns. Yes, Maine is cold, but the barn is heated and other zoos in the nation are in colder places, he has said. The space is not small, he said. As far as a herd, Laurita already is looking into bringing a second elephant to Hope to share the barn and paddock with Rosie.

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