“We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.” – William Ralph Inge
Circus protests sadden, fascinate, and uplift me. I get a sinking feeling when I see the inside of the dank and sordid trucks that transport the elephants across the country in the most extreme conditions. I feel terrible every time I leave a protest knowing that I’m leaving those animals behind to continue to endure a life of confinement and suffering. I think of the look of helplessness in their eyes and the way they beg for mercy with their screams and it devastates me endlessly.
At the same time, I feel heartened and proud to stand side-by-side with so many brave and selfless volunteers who give their time to save animals’ lives and I feel encouraged to see people end their support of the circus once they learn the truth.
There are three types of people who pay to see the circus: the angry-nasty-cursing-middle-finger-raising-spitters, the befuddled-naïve-followers, and the good-hearted-changers. For purposes of this article, they will be referred to as the spitters, the followers, and the changers, respectively.
As soon as the spitters approach a protest, they get very angry and the carousel of lunacy begins. No information documenting the abuse of animals on a leaflet, no posters showing the cruel training procedures, transport, or confinement, no DVD with undercover investigations illustrating the abuse and neglect or the fines and convictions, and no rational discussion about animal rights impacts them. They see protestors and begin cursing, try to hit them with their car, throw objects out their window, challenge them to fights, and become irate that anybody would stand in the way of them and their cruel entertainment. They feel entitled. They fake laugh at protestors and scream things like “Get a life!” and “I love to torture animals! Beat the elephants!” in a fruitless attempt to goad volunteers. All of these unprovoked behaviors are usually on display in front of their children. It’s hard to distinguish between the spitters and the circus employees who abuse the animals.
The followers don’t know what to say, where to go, or what to do. They’re frozen like a hunter in headlights. They see the protestors’ explicit signs and scratch their heads as they walk past them. They whisper things to each other like “What’s that all about?” feigning curiosity as they walk past posters revealing wanton abuse of animals. They motion to the people in front of them and say to their children “Follow them.” They stare, point, and walk faster to get inside before someone can stop them. They’re scared, mystified, stupefied, and mesmerized but rarely ever enough to stop to learn more. They hide behind other people, look down in shame, and generally don’t show any interest in facts. No matter how gentle the approach or how far the protestor extends a hand, they shake, rattle, and run. They live in denial and they don’t want to know the truth. They fear their conscience.
The changers show interest, they read the literature, they stop to speak with protestors, and they look concerned. Most of them are innocent in their intentions and good-hearted. They love some animals but haven’t figured out the importance of loving all animals yet. They’ve never thought about it before; the same way many of the protestors didn’t think about it before they learned the truth.
The changers say, “Wait, the employees abuse the animals?” with tears in their eyes. They listen, ask questions, and talk to other members of their family. Most of all, they often turn around and leave, throw away their tickets, don’t buy tickets, and even join the protest. They find other forms of entertainment that don’t involve abusing animals. They realize they weren’t thinking. Now they are. These people care, they give the animal protection community hope, and they remind protestors that their efforts are worthwhile. They are the target audience and their decisions matter. Their potential to impact change should never be underestimated. One changed child or adult may start the next Mercy for Animals, Farm Sanctuary, or PETA, run for public office, or advocate in their own way. It’s not always how many people the protestors reach but rather who they reach that matters. The changers make the protest worth it every time because they changed.
The purpose of these protests is to end the use of animals in circuses. There is no humane way to capture, confine, transport, train, abuse, neglect, and exploit an animal. These are myths promoted by the people who seek to profit by duping the public. Many circuses and other forms of entertainment such as Cirque du Soleil do not use animals. Animals are not meant to entertain people; they are meant to live their lives freely in their natural habitats. Please get involved and attend the next protest in your area. You are these animals only hope. Don’t let the spitters win.