Ringling Brothers announcement that they will no longer tour and are effectively out of the circus business should be a clarion call to every single one of us who love our dogs, love our horses, love our small bundles of fluff purring on our laps, and our other assorted pets. For those of you don’t know, when I’m not an author, I’m involved in dog shows. I raise and show collies.
Sea World was the first to fall when because of slanted and biased “reporting” in the faux documentary Blackfish, they were pressured to announce they would no longer be breeding orcas in captivity. For more than forty years, Sea World has never taken an orca from the wild and its pod. To attempt to habituate these animals to a life in the wild would be a death sentence. Sea World has been at the forefront of research and animal welfare for many sea animals.
And then Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey fell. Under pressure from animal rights groups (PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the ASPCA—American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and H$U$--Humane Society of the United States) which used deceptive tactics and out-right lies, the circus became the center of hateful campaigns by these radical animal rights groups rejecting science-based animal care in favor of political agendas and self-proclaimed expertise.
People respond emotionally, most of the time, and these groups (among others) know that. Run a commercial with mongrel dogs shivering (despite the fact that every last one of those dogs bordered on “obese”), kittens with matted eyes, add a voice over by an actress using her best “desperation” voice and the money will pour in. Show pictures of a several ton animal being moved with a stick which has a blunted hook on the end (erroneously referred to as a “bullhook”) and most people cringe. Those who don’t usually are educated on how and why those tools are used. (Hint: It’s a word that starts with “S” and ends in “afety.”) Thousands of well-meaning but misinformed individuals joined the bullying and legislative campaigns to stop circus parades or even to prevent use of tools that humanely protected the safety of the animals and onlookers and made the public experiences possible.
Ringling Brothers was vindicated in federal courts after being falsely accused of cruel practices, and the animal rights extremists used litigation to pursue fraudulent claims against the circus. In 2012, the ASPCA paid $9.3 million to settle their portion of these damages to Feld. In 2014, H$U$ settled a Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit for $15 million after it became clear that H$U$ and others had made false claims about animal cruelty by Ringling Brothers, including paying a witness to lie in court about animal care at the Ringling Brothers facilities.
Despite these wins, the challenges for the circus continued. In 2016 alone, dozens of communities around the country sought bans on the use of bullhooks or animal acts based on misinformation by extreme animal protection groups. Falsehoods about animal cruelty easily captured the imagination of a public with little animal experience or reference point to judge appropriate animal care.
The circus showed millions of Americans how humans and animals can bond and interact. It brought us a sense of wonder, it showed how interaction with animals can sometimes be unpredictable, and it gave us a chance to see animals we’d never see otherwise. Losing Ringling Brothers puts another brick in the wall that increasingly separates most Americans from interactions with a variety of animals. These interactions are built upon an understanding and respect for the fundamental differences between animals and humans, and it’s what makes the bond with animals so special.
As with Sea World and their orcas, Ringling Brothers circuses were notable because of their high level of commitment to scientific expertise, research, and understanding of the animals they worked with. They did not humanize elephants; they respected them. Through their elephant conservation centers in Florida and Sri Lanka, they devoted millions of dollars to elephant conservation and research and funded research worldwide to advance scientific understanding of the animals they sought to preserve.
There is a HUGE difference between animal welfare and animal rights groups. PETA would rather all domestic animals be dead. In 2015, 97% of the animals taken by PETA were summarily euthanized. The goal of H$U$ is to completely end the human/animal bond. For the millions of dollars that H$U$ takes from donations, less than 1% of that money is ever given to local shelters. H$U$ doesn’t even own an animal shelter. At least the ASPCA has a shelter building. Pure-bred dog and cat breeders are next on the hit list of these groups—yet seldom are there pure-bred dogs and cats in their manipulative advertising. Less than 5% of animals in any given animal shelter are pure-bred.
Know who you donate to. Do your research. If you want to donate to help animals in your local community, donate LOCALLY. Educate yourself. 99% of the people involved with breeding pure-bred dogs and cats are ethical. We love our animals. We spend thousands of dollars health testing before we ever plan the first breeding. I had one person tell me it was easier to adopt a child that it was to be allowed to purchase one of my puppies. And, that’s the way it should be.
Sea World has fallen. Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey has fallen. Zoos, rodeos, and dog and cat shows are next. Imagine your life without your dog. Or your cat. Or your horse. Imagine a life without being able to take your children to the zoo to see an animal they would never see otherwise. Imagine a life when because of the attacks by these animal rights groups, all the money that places like Sea World, Ringling Brothers, and zoos worldwide isn’t being poured into research and conservation so there are no more rhinos, no more elephants, no more snow leopards, no more wolves, no more wild things. Try to imagine how empty our lives will be.