It plans to ask the board of supervisors to put more permanent and stringent guidelines into the county code and it is contacting other counties, urging them to do the same. It held a one-day seminar on its list of conditions in September, and representatives from 18 other California counties attended.
"If we all had permitting processes, then it would force these circuses to raise their standards by agreeing to individual permits," Marin Humane Society spokesman Jason Willett said.
But researching and setting the conditions took a lot of work, and most county officials don't have the time, he added.
"Most people don't know what to look for, what a boil is on an elephant or if a pygmy hippo needs water. We researched all that information and consulted with a lot of zoologists and veterinarians to establish these guidelines. Then we wanted to share to save them the trouble."
One of the first to follow Marin's lead could be San Francisco, where there aren't many circuses but where a gay rodeo and a Russian bear show have raised hackles in the past.
The San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare took up the issue in October and plans to vote on a recommendation this month.
The trend worries Ringling Bros.' Galvin, who says existing regulations are strong enough and cities or counties that try to add to them are stepping on state and federal government toes.
"This is awful," Galvin said after reading Marin's guidelines. "My gut reaction is, it's really unlike anything I've ever seen before at this level. It goes way beyond what the local authorities should and can be doing."
She said she was downright insulted that they felt it necessary to put some of the conditions in the form of requirements. It's not fair to judge all circuses by the bad acts of a few irresponsible ones, she said.
"Most reputable circuses have incredibly dedicated and professional staff," she said. "It's almost a personal affront to hear these things. That's hard when it's your livelihood, and it's not an easy livelihood.
"It's in our best interest to do what's right and to treat these animals almost like members of the family," she said, "almost sometimes better than you treat your own family."