Fort Smith residents are in an uproar about a traveling tiger show taking place at the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair.

Nerger’s Tiger Show, touted as the largest group of performing tigers, is a midway act.

A 2017 article from 911 Animal Abuse, shared by Fort Smith Animal Services Advisory Board member Stacie Cox, said animals jump through hoops, make pyramids and “dance.” The show was employed at the time by Hawthorn Corporation, which was fined by the United States Department of Agriculture and had its licensed revoked.

“It has been brought to our attention that an article naming Nerger’s Tiger Show is being circulated on social media. The article from 2017 represented another entity and not the Nergers nor their act,” the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair said in a news release. “They are not employed by the Hawthorn Corporation nor has their USDA license been revoked or suspended. In the past three weeks, they have successfully entertained crowds in Pennsylvania, New York and now Fort Smith.”

The show is now operated by Capitol International Productions and retains a USDA license.

The Nergers, however, were allegedly cited in July by the USDA for three violations of animal welfare regulations at the Summit County Fair in Tallmadge, Ohio. A document of the alleged report was provided by Turpentine Creek Wildlife Rescue, a “big cat” sanctuary dedicated to rehabilitating “survivors of the exotic pet trade.”

The report says guests behind a 4-foot barrier fence roughly three feet from the enclosure can feed adult tigers. Meat is put on the blunt end of a metal pole. One member of the public allegedly reached over the barrier during the event, the report says.

According to the document, tigers could make contact with a guest over the fence, pull one into the barrier using the pole, or a tiger could be injured with the pole. These safety concerns were supposed to be corrected immediately.

The show ring has chain link panels with arches on top for 12 feet of protection and a tarp is attached using rubber straps, the report says. Guests are located right outside the fence while tigers sit on pedestals, ranging from 18 inches to five feet tall, during the show.

“Even though the tigers are not in the ring unsupervised, the ring is structurally inadequate to contain the tigers or act as a sufficient barrier between the animals and the public,” USDA inspector Randall Coleman writes in the report, noting the handlers are sometimes on the opposite side of the ring. “If that tiger were motivated, it could potentially climb or jump out of the enclosure.”

The report says a better barrier or larger distance from the ring needed to be implemented by Aug. 1.

Lastly, the report says seven tigers are allegedly kept in cages without space to stretch their full vertical length or sit in an upright position. Inspectors were allegedly told tigers go in the show ring during off time, but inspectors said only four tigers were out of their cages only during the 30-minute performance.

Violations regarding the cage size were required to be corrected by Aug. 1. The document alleged the Nergers refused to sign the report, and a copy was provided in person, via email and certified mail.

“From what I understand, the violations were bogus by an inspector who was out of his authority to even issue them,” David Musselman of Capitol International said. “These were not valid but the Peta/’animal rights’ misguided people will make a big deal out of anything they can. … This is a very fine attraction with tigers that are loved and cared for with the ultimate quality. No tigers we taken from the wild. They are all rescued and cared for with the best possible food and living conditions.”

The USDA cannot verify by email the report's authenticity because Nerger’s is a “homestead business,” public affairs specialist Andre Bell said. Turpentine Creek got the USDA report from the Humane Society of the United States through Big Cat Refuge, the group told the Times Record.

Summit County Fair Manager Cathy Cunningham positively reviewed the act to Capitol International, calling it great, easy to work with and clean.

“We had some social media crazy with negativ(ity), but the publicity helped our attendance,” Cunningham wrote in an email, ending it with a smiley face.

‘How do humans not want to cry?’

Advocates are still speaking against the show, noting tigers are wild and solitary animals.

Turpentine Creek claimed animals are often denied exercise, clean food and water, while the cage sizes force them to lay in their own waste, a press release states.

Wildlife interpreter Abby Hickman said in the release animals perform unnatural behaviors through abusive methods, and it’s “ludicrous” to think the tigers enjoy or benefit from them.

Judit Nerger told in July she uses sticks “to get them up” and “(the pressure is) not not hurting them.”

These guys are our family members,” Nerger said. “Even though they are outside and in cages, we treat them like pets — it’s not just a job. It’s more than that.”

Local rescue Jen's Kitty Rehab will be at the fair, providing animal welfare literature.

Board member Jesse Fenwick said it's not protesting the specific show but wants to share knowledge about large and small cat care. It plans to have welfare-related shirts and stuffed animals for purchase, while holding an adoption event for domesticated cats.

“I think this is going to be a good opportunity to spread awareness for us and the tigers,” Fenwick said. “How do humans see that and not want to cry over that?”

The Arkansas-Oklahoma State fair runs from Friday until Sept. 28.