I'm not an animal rights activist. I've never even owned a dog or a cat. While I love vegan food I do not identify as such and I have, in the past, owned a leather belt.
But when it comes animals performing in a circus. I just can't. I can't. I know the idea of a circus brings up visions of acrobats, snow cones and clowns pouring out of a tiny car but it's not for me. I know a lot of other people who took their children to see the Cole Brothers Circus when it came to my town last week. But I simply couldn't bring my children to something that I couldn't stomach myself. Something that seems so wrong I can't believe it's still in existence in 2014.
Cole Brothers has been condemned with a slew of animal mistreatment violations over the past decade, many of which resulted in thousands of dollars of fines and at least 4 years of probation. They are too heartbreaking to detail here (any google search will pull up their proud track record of animal abuse) but they include failing to meet the minimal standards of care and they were cited repeatedly for having dangerously underweight elephants. Oh and for beating up baby elephant. Come and bring your families!
According to the AARF:
Violent, physical abuse remains a common method of training and controlling elephants and other animals in the circus. In 2013, the Cole Bros. Circus was traveling with several elephants under the control of trainer Tim Frisco. Mr. Frisco is infamous for undercover video footage that captured him beating elephants with bullhooks and shocking them with electric prods. In the video, Frisco is heard instructing other elephant trainers to, “Hurt ‘em! Make ‘em scream! … Sink that hook into ‘em … When you hear that screaming, then you know you got their attention!” The disturbing video is widely available online.
You will not see that video here.
Elephants are not big dumb lumps. They are one of the most magnificent, compassionate and fascinating species walking out planet. I didn't want my children's first exposure to these amazing animals to be at a circus. This is the same reason I don't take my children to zoos. I just feel so bad for all of the animals trapped in them.
I don't think Orcas should be locked in a tiny pen for 44 years like Lolita in Miami, her skin blistering with sunburn because she's given no opportunity for shade. It kills me to see a depressed lion laying around his tiny enclosure at Great Adventure's Safari. I don't understand why it's important to have elephants stand on their hind legs so we can ooh and clap when they would never do that in the wild.
Maybe animals aren't here to amuse us. Maybe animals shouldn't be beaten or shocked in order to get them to lift their leg for our entertainment. I don't think bears should be made to ride unicycles and nor do I get why human's enjoyment of a baby elephant should trump the baby's need to be with it's mother. Elephant calves stay with their mothers for close to 13 years. It's a fascinating bond. Elephants are thinking, feeling creatures. They grieve when a member of their herd is lost. Go to http://elephants.com/ to learn how riveting these animals are. Tennessee has an elephant sanctuary dedicated to letting long-captive elephants live out the remainder of their lives in peace. Because it's a sanctuary, it's not open to the public. Nor should it be. These animals have gone through enough.
And more than anything, I don't see why this cruelty to animals is both sanctioned and supported by so many loving families I know, many of whom have rescued dogs from horrible conditions and literally made them part of their families. I wonder how they would feel if their pet were ripped away from them, denied food and zapped repeatedly with a cattle prod until they could balance a ball on their nose. If they only knew the conditions for animals at Cole Brothers Circus I doubt they would want to give these individuals their money or expose their children to such depravity.
"Why aren't we going to the circus?" my son asked me when he realized a few of his friends were.
We had to pass the circus several times over that week. There was no way to avoid it since it was set up literally blocks from our house. As they spotted the striped big top both my children (plus my niece and nephew) pointed excitedly and yelled out "Circus!"
I pulled the car over in front of the circus. It was very quiet since it was only 11 o'clock in the morning. By some miracle, we had a vantage point that lent us a view of what should have been a majestic animal. It was a bony elephant with eyes downcast slumped in the corner of it's cage. My 2 year old's visceral reaction was to be troubled.
"Why him in jail?" she asked. Even she knew, on some primal level, it was wrong.
I explained to them that this circus was "naughty". I explained to my children, in terms they could understand, that this circus had been found guilty, several times, of beating animals as well as not providing them doctors when the animals were sick, letting them go hungry and leaving them out in the rain all night to sleep without a tent.
I said I thought that capturing animals and forcing them to live in cages and perform tricks was wrong and I didn't want to be any part of it. I said that if everyone decided that circuses were archaic, cruel and downright animal abuse (and would stop buying tickets) then circuses wouldn't make any money and eventually people would stop capturing, breeding and torturing animals for humans' enjoyment.
They all were quiet as they gazed out at the circus taking all of this in.
Little D was the first to speak "That Circus NAUGHTY!" she declared.
Big A shook his head "Mommy, I DO NOT want to go to that circus".
Where I was expecting whining and protest for missing out on such a fun event their friends were attending, what I got was disgust at the animals' plight and complete understanding. Kids are different than adults. They haven't yet learned to convince themselves to accept things that are clearly wrong just because everyone else is doing it.
For the week the big top was up and we drove past, my children would point and out the window and yell "Naughty Circus!" I grinned each time, proud. And scratch the Bronx Zoo (or any other zoo, for that matter) off my list because my kids won't be going there either. Sea World? Nope. There are so many marvelous things for children to do in this world that don't involve the subjugation, exploitation and suffering of animals.
I know I can't change the world. I am only one person. But I am one person. My family makes 4.
And we ain't going to the circus.