Magician feels tricked by lack of revised rabbit rule
WASHINGTON — Marty Hahne’s magic tricks don’t work in Washington.
Hahne is the Springfield, Mo.-area magician who became a media sensation a few years ago, when The Washington Post wrote about an obscure federal rule that required him to have a license and disaster plan for his rabbit, Casey, the furry star of his children’s magic shows.
The reaction was wondrous — at first.
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The secretary of Agriculture quashed the disaster plan requirement immediately after the Post’s story was posted online. And by early 2014, lawmakers in Congress had directed the Agriculture Department to craft an exemption to the rules, so that Hahne and other magicians no longer had to submit to surprise federal bunny inspections and other silliness.
Nearly three years later, though, those political edicts seem like hocus pocus to Hahne, a.k.a. “Marty the Magician.”
Agriculture Department regulators haven’t finalized the exemption, so he still has to file annual paperwork for his rabbit permit, and Casey still gets regular visits from the USDA inspectors. The magician even has to send the feds his travel schedule if he and Casey go on any overnight trips.
“When I travel with my rabbit, like if I’m going to an elementary school in Kansas City … the letter of the law says I need to fax or email them my itinerary,” said Hahne, who performs at schools, libraries and birthday parties. “It’s just a real inconvenience.”
The decades-old rule was originally intended to regulate zoos and circuses, but it has expanded over the years to scoop up even small “animal exhibitors” like Hahne. The issue captured national attention when the USDA moved to expand the rule even further — requiring businesses that sell or exhibit animals to develop emergency plans for their furry friends in case of a flood, tornado or other disasters.
That proposal, since nixed, stemmed from a public outcry after thousands of animals were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. Congress got involved then, too — passing a law requiring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make sure rescue plans addressed the needs of individuals with pets and service animals.
Hahne said it’s all gotten a bit out of hand.
“If you have six tigers in a show, you should be inspected,” he said. “But if you have one little bunny rabbit?”
Federal regulators have not ignored the magician’s bunny saga. But they have taken years to rewrite the rules that require smaller animal exhibitors to get a license and inspections. And the proposed rules they’ve come up with would still ensnare Hahne in their regulatory net.
On Aug. 3, more than two years after Congress called for the exemption, the Agriculture Department’s animal and plant division issued a 12-page draft proposal. Under that measure, to wiggle out of the licensing and inspection requirements, magicians and other animal exhibitors can’t make a living off that activity.
“… Persons who derive their primary source of income from exhibiting the animals, or who generate a substantial amount of money from such exhibition as determined by APHIS (the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), would not be eligible for the exclusion,” the draft rule states. The agency said Congress’ legislative directive should be interpreted to mean “the activity is not a full-time job or primary source of income.”
But Hahne is a full-time magician, and Casey is a regular part of his act. “Their definitions don’t help me out,” he said.
Now, the Agriculture Department’s proposal has Sen. Claire McCaskill hopping mad.
“I can think of no earthly reason why a magician should be subject to a burdensome registration regulation from the government for his lone rabbit,” the Missouri Democrat. “I relish the opportunity to arm-wrestle bureaucrats who dropped their common sense on their way into the office.”
McCaskill sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week blasting the agency for taking so long to enact the new rule and for failing to figure out a common-sense solution to the magician’s dilemma.
“This is a classic example of bureaucrats in Washington identifying a potential problem but using a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel to address it,” she said.
Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for the USDA’s animal and plant agency, said agency officials met with McCaskill last week to hear her concerns. She said USDA officials are now reviewing all the public comments submitted on the draft rule before finalizing it.
“The intent of our proposed rule is to exempt business activities that are de minimis — meaning they are of a sufficiently small size, maintain or infrequently exhibit a small number of certain common non-dangerous animals, or own household pets that are exhibited occasionally, generate less than a substantial portion of income, and reside exclusively with the owner — from federal licensure and oversight,” Cole said.
Hahne said he was encouraged that McCaskill decided to weigh in on the matter. But it might take more than a little magic to get the rule fixed.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
(Photo: Astrid Riecken, Getty Images)
As a full time magician who performs with many exotic animals this entire article really hits home and makes me very angry! I hope this can come to a reasonable solution soon as I would certainly hate to be in Marty Hahne's position.
-Aaron Clark (The Amazing Ziggy)
So there is always that one kid or sometimes adult in the audience that offers a spoiler alert for everyone else. People at the party hate this, just as much as the magician does, but I want to give a different perspective. Don't get me wrong...it's really annoying when someone ruins the trick for you. It's no different than someone telling you who won the football game before you've had a chance to watch it, or what happens on the next episode of your favorite TV Show you haven't watched yet. Magicians are forced to deal with this on a frequent basis because lets face it, with access to the internet at their finger tips these days many of the tricks we magicians are doing have been revealed on YouTube, or the masked magician has given away the secret. But for me the issue isn't that they know how its done, but rather that they have to broadcast it to the rest of the audience, while it's happening live.
So as I said I want to defend the spoilers out there, and it is because as a young boy I distinctly remember my mother hiring a magician for my 8th birthday party, and I was that annoying kid! I loved magic so much and I was definitely the kid that thought he knew it all. I guess I'm getting paid back now, considering I have made magic my career. I remember that magician at my birthday party did a coin vanish and I saw the move and called him out on it in front of all my friends as I yelled out "it's under you watch." And sure enough he takes off the watch and there it is...Nope he wasn't fooling me! I felt like I was on cloud 9 because I figured out his trick. But I never really thought about how the rest of my friends felt who attended my party. How did they feel about me ruining the show for them? I mean after all it was my party so I probably wouldn't have really cared at the time, but that just goes to show I was a spoiled little brat I guess. Now as an adult I can only imagine how my mother must have felt, or how the magician at my party felt for having so many tricks ruined for him. He probably thought that was the worst show he's ever done, but little did he know that the magic he did just added fuel to the fire for my desire to learn more and more about magic.
So for any magicians reading this I encourage you to step up your game, and make your sleight of hand better because of those magic spoilers out there. The bottom line is you need to anticipate someone spoiling a trick, plan for failure, and be witty and clever enough in the spur of the moment to prove you are better than them! This will help you win over your audience and it adds improvisational humor to your performance which makes for a better show.
The most important thing I hope you take away from this is that you need to realize how every time you perform you are also inspiring someone in that audience. someone that may decide when they grow up to pursue a career as a magician. The art of magic is a dying art and it can only be kept alive if we magicians are working to inspire the youth that are watching us perform. I truly wish I could go back and shake that magicians hand from my 8th birthday party, so I could thank him for encouraging me. His magic may not have been that hard for an 8 year old to figure out, but it was certainly entertaining enough to help shape the type of performer that I wanted to become.
Aaron Clark (The Amazing Ziggy)
My Name is Aaron Clark and I'm know as The Amazing Ziggy. I've been a Professional Magician for over 20 years performing all over the US and internationally, but mostly for events on the east coast in the Atlanta Area.