Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the LEAST show on earth

Yesterday’s Noon news covered the story of the annual ‘Elephant Walk’. The Ringling Bros. Circus is in town and they parade the elephants from Queens (an outer borough of NYC) through the Midtown Tunnel and into Manhattan. The elephants, along with many other animals, then spend weeks in trailers near Madison Square Garden while the circus does show after show after show.

I got the photo above from the NY Daily News – you can read the story HERE. One parade spectator called the sight “magical”. Really? OK. Let’s put a ridiculous hat on your head, take you thousands of miles away from your natural home and parade you through dark streets and a suffocating tunnel. And if you don’t move fast enough or if you get frightened we’ll smack you with a hook. How’s that for “magical”.

When I was a child one of the few things my father insisted on doing with us was going to the circus. We would arrive early so that we could visit the “Sideshow” better known as the “Freak Show”. Believe it or not this practice of exploiting and degrading people was not stopped until the 1970s. I always begged to wait outside. I hated the place. I felt sorry for the fat lady – sitting on a tiny chair with her rolls and rolls of fat spilling out of a tiny costume. People stared and mocked while she smiled. The tallest man, the tiniest man, the bearded lady – they all made me sad and the people watching made me sick. It doesn’t surprise me that my father enjoyed this. He loved looking down on people and he had a cruel streak a mile long. Luckily I saw this and took the opposite route – so many children follow their parent’s lead.

My son was 7 when he asked to go to the circus. The commercials were on TV and many of his friends were going. I wasn’t especially aware of animal rights at that time and the sideshow was gone so we went. The best part of the show was buying one of those lights on a string. The ones that cost a fortune and die as soon as you get home, the ones the kids all swing around in the air conking themselves on the head. When the elephants came out my son turned to me and said they made him feel “funny and sad” and he didn’t like the circus. Man he was some kind of a wonderful kid!!

Year after year there are investigations. Year after year former Ringling employees speak out and still this miserable show continues.

CIRCUSES.COM has video of how the elephants are “trained”. Warning – it is not easy to watch. There is an entire section devoted to ‘Ringling vs. Reality’ – Reality wins. Shut Ringling down.

The Wildlife Advocacy Project is also working on stopping the mistreatment of the elephants. You can visit them HERE

If you want your children to see animals up close then find an animal sanctuary that allows visitors. In NJ there is a wonderful place called ‘Popcorn Park’ – if you go HERE and then click their link on the left sidebar you can learn all about them. The AMERICAN SANCTUARY ASSOCIATION lists accredited sanctuaries – find one near you and check them out. They also have global partners. There are some (not many) zoos that are accredited. Research the zoo you visit and find out whether your patronage is helping or hurting animals.

There are also lots of other things to do – museums, planetariums, trapeze acts not associated with a circus, or how about just going to the park. In this economy how wonderful to save some money and put Ringling out of business at the same time.

“Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar” ~ Bradley Miller


Jay said...

I totally agree. I will never got to a circus. I think they should be outlawed. At least the exploitation of the animals should be. They're not research institutions or anything like that!

I did go to Circus Circus in Vegas once. Just trapeze acts though, no animals. Well, other than the sharks at the poker tables. ;-)

Mrs. C said...

I am not sure that sending a circus elephant into the wild would be a good idea, however. This is the only life some of these animals have ever known.

But anyone who has ever watched Dumbo is rooting for the elephant. :]

I have never seen a "freak show," can't imagine what that is like.

Deborah Godin said...

I've never been a circus person either, and zoos only if they are more enlightened and animal-friendly. Zoos are ending up beinging the hope for some species until we can smarten up and start preserving more habitat.

Daryl said...

Brava Dianne ...

I hate the circus, I hate the zoo ... I especially hate sideshows and clowns .. but I love you!

Cherie said...

I haven't been able to go to the circus or zoos in a long time. They make me feel sad.

Sylvia K said...

Brava indeed! I'm not surprised we feel the same way! I went to the circus once when I was a child and just remember feeling sorry for the animals, never wanted to go again. There are some nice zoos here in the northwest that do a lot towards preserving natural habitat. I guess I had rather see at least some animals saved before they're all extinct. There also a number of animal sanctuaries out here. Those were the ones we took our kids to see.

Sparkling Red said...

Agreed. As you know I pick up on energies and emotions of people - and of animals too. I don't go to the zoo because most of the animals there are depressed and hopeless. It really gets me down.

bobbie said...

I love the Miller quote.

My father used to take me to the circus too. I thought it was scary. But I went with my daughter's class to see it. From way up in the seats far from the ring it looked great. From my seat here today, it makes me angry.
Your suggestion about sanctuaries is great.

Akelamalu said...

Animals should be banned from circuses. The trapeze artistes, tightrope walkers and clowns are entertaining enough and at least they are doing it because they want to.:(

Liberality said...

What a great post! I can't click on those links and see how the animals are treated because I know it will make me sick. I didn't really ever like the circus as a child and I don't now either. I think I took my kids to the circus once just because they asked to go.

Carolyn said...

Thank you for this wonderful post, I couldn't agree with you more. If you want or need to go to the circus try Cirque du Soleil(
Simply amazing! Thank you for sharing.

Kay said...

First off, I love the quote.

Did you read “Water for Elephants’? It was a pretty good book…. And though it didn’t get into it as deep it did make a point about violence against animals and people.

Thank you for this post… thank you for offering alternatives instead of just pointing out the bad.

Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Hi Dianne! When I was a youngster, I used to love to go to the circus. I loved the animals and was in ahh of the people so close to lions, tigers, elephants... Now that I am old and know better, I can't stand it. When I see pictures of the elephants being paraded into AC, I cry.

I used to enjoy going to the zoo. I still go once in a while, but I find myself getting depressed while walking through. Wishing these animals a better life. A life outside the cage. But with the destruction of habitat, and their species, it seems like this is the safest place for them. How sad. Lisa

Dianne said...

jay - I went to Vegas once and it was a circus all on its own :)

mrs c - they couldn't be sent back to the wild - sanctuaries would have to take them and Ringling's assets should be seized to pay for their care
Ringling has huge amounts of property in Florida - it should be turned into a sanctuary
the "freak show" was so horrible!!

deborah - you're absolutely right - those are the zoos being accredited

daryl - I love you too :)
I totally forgot to mention clowns - they're so sad and scary - very few children like them

cherie - check and see if there is a sanctuary in your area - the one near me makes me feel so much better about animals -- and people.

sylvia - I love how much we have in common

sparkling - I know how you feel, makes me heart feel so heavy

bobbie - it is a wonderful quote :)

akelamalu - that's what I like about the Wildlife Advocacy people - they're lawyers giving voice to those who don't have one

lib - it is hard to see, but take heart - there are also people working hard to fix it

carolyn - Cirque du Soleil is a good suggestion. thanks so much for your kind comment

kay - I didn't read that book but I'll add it to my list
I hope people do check out sanctuaries - as I mentioned to Lib above, they do so much good work

lisa - I think more and more zoos are getting better as they become more educated and you're right about the loss of natural habitat - that is a huge part of the problem

Ron said...

BRAVA Dianne!!!!

I SOOOOOO agree with you!!!

It's funny, because I always hated going to the circus as a child. First of all...CLOWNS totally freak me the hell out. And like you, I always felt so sad for the animals. Especially the elephants, because they have a such a sweetness about them.

Thank you for sharing the info on the sanctuary in Jersey. I'll be checking the link out sometime this weekend.

I hope I don't see any elephants walking down the streets in NY tomorrow!

Wonderful post, dear lady!

Love ya!

Travis said...

I went to the circus once when I was a kid. I enjoyed the acrobats and flyers. The clowns made me a bit nervous, but they were mostly funny and not too scary.

But I did not like the animal acts.

Thom said...

I'm astounded at this. I never knew. Thanks for the info. I remember growing up and in the annual Nevada Day Parade they paraded the John Asquaga's Nugget elephant in the parade. As a child I thought it wonderful. I'm not so sure now

Anonymous said...

Right on Dianne!
Having grown up seeing these animals in the wild, where they belong, the circus is indeed a vile spectacle - another example of man's cruelty and greed at any cost.

Sadly we need some zoo's, but we must only support the ethical ones while simultaneously doing what we can to protect the natural homes of our fellow inhabitants of our planet.

I will never forget my first visit to Johannesburg Zoo. I was 4 or 5 years old. I watched in horror as a Polar Bear circled a tiny pool - a Polar Bear in AFRICA - WTF!!!

Shelly said...

In 1986 I got stuck going to the circus with a group, when the bears came out I started to did several of the other women in the group I was with. They finally "got it".
Nobody will ever bully me into going to the circus again.
Save your money, take your kid to the park or for a walk on the beach...take the time to explain why.
On a ligher note, your comment over at Quiet Rage totally cracked me up!

Cloudia said...

Thanks for this well written and deeply thoughtful post. your kid is cool! Your Dad (and mine!) less so.
Aloha, my friend!

Jay Simser said...

I have a link to an elephant sanctuary on my blog. when I watched the video of Ned arriving at the sanctuary i felt a profound sadness come over me that this magnificent animal could have been treated so poorly.

Thank God for the folks who run these places and Thank You for this wonderful post. j

Reb said...

Excellent post Dianne, I agree that it is well past time to shut down the circuses. More and more zoos are being accredited for saving wildlife and that is a good thing. Lets just hope it is not too late.

the walking man said...

I think you could have a circus without elephants and tigers or other mammals taken out of their habitat.

We have one every day in Detroit and it features none of the above but is amusing none the less and the freaks in the freak show are all well paid and elected.

Dianne said...

ron - I'm pretty sure the elephants are all in their trailers by now :(
I hate most parades too, more stupidity on display

travis - the trapeze acts are great and can be seen at so many places other than the circus - in NY people can even try it out for themselves

thom - I was the same as a child, that's why it is so important for parents to teach their children to respect animals

rob - it must be especially rough for you! I hope there is wild habitat left by the time I can afford (fingers crossed) to travel

shelly - there's a video of a bear act floating about that is so disturbing, I could only watch a few seconds - the poor creature is muzzled most of the day!!

cloudia - thankfully we both chose the opposite route from our fathers.

jay s - I visit Ned a lot, he's doing so much better - the elephant sanctuary in TN is full of some of the most wonderful people

reb - it's good to see more zoos getting on board

mark - actually we could take our kids to DC to see real freaks in their natural habitat ;)

Natalie said...

Once again, agreed. Thanks for always spreading the word and being a tireless advocate for those without voices.

The zoos are completely hit or miss and I highly suggest researching them before visiting. Some are much in the same vein as the circus, but some are also great and the last hope for species survival because we humans are dumbasses.

One of my favorite places to visit when I was in Florida was the Big Cat Rescue. A sanctuary for retired and rescued circus cats who cannot fend for themselves in the wild. They also have injured native wild cats who couldn't survive on their own because of their injuries and rescued abused "pets" that people with too much money thought they could handle. It saddens me so deeply that people just don't get it when it comes to the treatment of all animals, especially wild ones. But I am grateful sanctuaries exist and people like you fight for their rights.

gabrielle said...

Rilke said it so much better than I could ever hope to. He visited the panther every day.

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

Thanks for this post. Infinite sadness for those who are caged.

Linda said...

I have never liked circuses from the time I was a small child. The clowns creep me out, the high-wire acts make my palms sweat, and the poor animals ... how indignant a life for them. You are absolutely right in that there is nothing "magical" about it it any way, shape, or form.

When David Hannum (in reference to P.T. Barnum) said that there was "a sucker born every minute" he wasn't kidding and those same suckers are still being born and going to see the travesties under the big top.

Excellent post!

Raven said...

I never liked the circus either. The elephants in the photo you show really do look sad. One of my nieces is very committed to animal rights though she is less active than she was. When she lived in Seattle she helped lead the campaign to get their zoo to release a troubled elephant named Bamboo to this wonderful sanctuary in Tennessee.

I love the Bradley Miller quote. So true.

Bond said...

OK...I am going to go over and sit in the corner...I LOVE the Zoo... I LOVE the circus...

I am sorry Dianne...we sit on opposite sides of the fence here.

Ivanhoe said...

I actually have fond memories going to the circus as a child. Off course I do not approve the practice as an adult - now that I can comprehand the animal abuse. I'm just saying that I loved watching all the amazing exotic animals while growing up in poor communist country.

Dianne said...

natalie - it saddens me too that people don't get it, which is why someone like you makes my heart feel better

gabrielle - the poem is so sad and so real - thanks for sharing it

linda - when I was researching this post I found so much about Barnum but the post was going to get too long
he was regarded as a "perpetual liar", a "con artist" - he was accused of abusing people and animals, he was known to have a short temper and a violent streak - some legacy for the "greatest" show on earth

raven - I love that sanctuary, I try to send them what I can afford. that's where the elephant and the dog have become best friends and that's where Jay S's buddy Ned lives now

bond - no need to sit in corners - we have disagreed before, we will again - we still manage to get along
I will as whether you love the reality of the circus or the ideal - did you check my links? the beatings with hooks, the standing for hours with one leg chained to the ground, they can't even shift around - from everything I know of you I can't imagine you don't think that is wrong
and so as someone who loves the circus you should tell them how you feel - we're only as good as the least powerful among us Vin

ivanhoe - that makes sense, it is how they continue to stay in business - innocent people who don't know the facts and the reality
plus I have read that many circuses outside of the US actually are far better run and regulated

Jackie said...

Spot on. Over here there's been a massive backlash and there are very very very few circuses which still have animals - and definitely not a freak show. Just amazing acrobats and stuff.

Linda Reeder said...

I never really liked the cirucs. As a child I knew I was supposed to like it, but the "acts" just didn't thrill me or really even interest me. I didn't even like the clowns. It really had nothing to do with animal rights.
I always think if the Peggy Lee song, "It That All There Is?", which includes a verse about the circus. That's how I felt.

SnoopMurph said...

Ooh, I hated circuses as a kid and still will not go to one. They were way too noisy and overstimulating to me and I am certain that my boys would probably be a wreck. It is really sad how the animals are treated as well and I agree that visiting a place that respects animals is a better use of our meager earnings.

Actually, now that I think about, when I was in NY-there was a traveling circus that came to the Hudson Valley each year. One guy from my high school, in the middle of the night, decided to go get drunk or high and scare the elephants in their sleep. He was stomped to death by an elephant.

Anndi said...

When Chicklet was a wee lass, her favourite movie was Dumbo. We watched it over and over and over and over and over again. I don't have the heart to tell her that it's not quite as lovely as that.

I do love that quote.

I am picky about the zoos and aquariums we visit. As much as our kind is responsible for the extinction of far too many animals, there are some species that are still around because of some fine zoos that have made it their mission to protect what the rest of humanity tramples on.

maryt/theteach said...

Aw, shoot, Dianne! I wonder where in Queens they were walking... I missed them! :)

Lisa said...

Your son was born with a good heart, but I'm sure some of why he chose to be sad had to do with his mother teaching him compassion.

I haven't watched the video yet...

I'll try...

Not ready to cry yet today. And I will. Cry. That's a given

CG said...

I have always found circuses very uncomfortable spectacles.

A. said...

Wow! I thought the "freak" shows died out in the 20s or so.

Thanks for the Popcorn Park link, too. I don't think that's too far from me. Field trip time :)


Border Explorer said...

I'm sorry I'm so late to the list...all the way down to comment 40 now. My parents found me crying in my bedroom after we got back from the local fair that had a "sideshow" attraction we visited. I think I shocked them; they thought this was a nice event to take the kids to see.

I feel such a kinship with you upon reading this post. I always did before, but to meet someone who shared such a similar gut-experience like this is really wonderful for me.

Mrs. C said...

Hey...hopefully you check your old posts for comments but knew this was right up your alley:

Probation. For killing 68 animals. Because he was "overwhelmed" with his two children.,2933,511600,00.html

Um, I know several people with seven to eleven children who can ALSO remember to feed the *#@( cat every now and again.


AND I wonder what's the penalty for rape and murder? Apology note and 30 days' jail?


Dianne said...

jackie - I do believe there are places ouside the US where circuses are being held accountable

linda - circuses are just sad to me

snoop - that's horrible about that boy - the place needed better security I assume and the elephants are not to blame
I posted a story a litte while ago about a woman wrestling an alligator and being bitten, she's still being presented as the victim - WTF!? don't wrestle gators!

anndi - children often have better instincts than adults

mary - LIC I believe

lisa - no need to watch it sweetie - the elephants know you care :)

CG - yep!

A - there is actually a few still running!!
we're near each other then - Popcorn is about an hour away from me, I'm in Central NJ - Exit 117 on GSP

border - I often feel a kinship with you and it doesn't surprise me that we had that same reaction - in a way I'm glad to remember how it felt, makes me a more empathetic person today

mrs c - if they can cite some mental illness then I suppose the person deserves a 2nd chance
in general I find punishment rarely fits the crime in this country since our priorities are so screwed up

Smalltown RN said...

I know I am late in this discussion, but I couldn't agree with you more....I never understood the attraction to the Circus...I don't even like going to the Aquarium or Zoo...for me it's not natural to see Whales and Polar bears in tanks and cages....if scientists want to learn more about these species then get out there in their natural habitat and study them and report back to us...and if one day I have an opportunity to go see a Polar Bear in his back yard then lucky me.

I am fortunate that I do get to see whales, grey, and orcas in their natural me it's just wrong to corral these creatures just for the purpose of public viewing....

Mrs. C said...

I agree, Dianne, but I was reading that article and going WHERE are their children and has anyone looked in on them? You know, I'm rarely one that thinks it's a hot idea to get all snoopy on someone's life, but you know... after killing *68* animals, I have to wonder if their kids are ok!!

Either the reporter fell down on the job or somebody's not saying something. JMO. Especially if you're right about the mental illness... I hadn't thought of that though probably I should have.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Sorry to be so late to comment, but I'm glad I didn't miss this post.

I detest the circus. The only one I ever took my kids to was a Vermont-based performance called Circus Smirkus which involves only acrobatics and other high-jinks. That's how we go our circus fix.

When we were visiting my parents in Portugal, my father insisted on taking the girls to a small circus that came to the seaside town where we were vacationing. They had only lions. We saw them in their small cages before the performance and my heart ached. They were old lions and not very clean. They looked so sad.

And elephants are so freakin' intelligent. How dare we treat animals this way.

Like Kay, I recommend Water for Elephants. Great story.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I so agree with you, Dianne....I don't understand how this kind of cruelty is allowed to continue...HOW R&R Wins each time...It has to involve pay-offs or people who have absolutely no feeling whatsoever for any living creature...!

Out in Shambala, Teppi Hedrin's Sanctuaty for many Cats---Tigers, Lions, Cheetah's, etc., she also has always had two elephants....ALL of these animals are "Rescues", including the Elephants....It is quite an extrordinary place and in her small way she has saved and preserved so very many animals that would have been destroyed otherwise. Going out there is inspring in every way. I know there are a lot of people like Tippi, and a lot of places like hers, too....!
The Cruelty to the Elephants in the Circus, as well as many of the other animals, too, is utterly appalling and should be stopped, once and for all!

Dianne said...

mrs c
smalltown rn
old old lady of the hills

just wanted you all to know I always read comments, no matter when they come in :)

thanks for adding your voices

CrystalChick said...

I've never like the Circus.
For those who do, fine, but they should be with HUMAN performers only. I didn't watch the video because I can only imagine the horrors.
I probably went to a couple as a child but don't really remember anything specific. I certainly will not ever go to one now and will try and make sure my daughter is aware of what happens so that she doesn't take my grandson.
Zoos, I have mixed feelings about. I've been a few times to Phila. and Cape May so before we take a trip next time I'll have to do a little research.
Thanks for posting something of real importance.

Anonymous said...

It is so good to hear someone else who feels like I do. Everyone always makes me feel like a freak because I don't like the circus and how the treat the animals. Love the post, causes and quote!