When I was a kid, I got to run away and join the circus.
I spent six years of my life there, traveling with my parents and sister. They were professional clowns, literally and sometimes figuratively. My best friend was Lisa, a 2-ton elephant that I performed with. I lived side-by-side with animal trainers, flying trapeze artists, ringmasters, jugglers and circus people of all sorts.
Considering I have spent much of my life with the animals and people who take care of them, it is hard for me to understand the hatred toward circuses projected by animal activists, especially by the members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Recently, PETA became entangled in a legal battle because two of its members, Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook, “rescued” dogs and cats from a local animal shelter in North Carolina and euthanized them in the back of their van to relieve their suffering.
Instead of properly taking care of the bodies, they dumped them in a trash bin behind a grocery store because the smell was too overwhelming to endure. All Hinkle and Cook had to endure was the ride back to the PETA headquarters in Virginia, where the bodies could have been stored in a large freezer until they could be properly buried.
The worst part is that PETA supports euthanasia, claiming it “is often the most compassionate and dignified way for unwanted animals to leave an uncaring world.” Their supportive stance on euthanasia is a negation of their “animals are people, too” attitude, and the disposal of the animal remains is not very humane.
Yet PETA has the audacity to protest and boycott circuses, even though most circuses properly care for – and refrain from killing – animals in their possession. The problem is that one bad instance at one bad circus is used to paint all circuses and animal trainers as unethical. Yes, there are animal trainers who mistreat their animals, just as there are doctors who mistreat their patients. The fact that a few doctors have been sued for malpractice does not prove that all doctors are quacks – I have yet to see patient activists throwing fake blood at doctors and nurses in protest. It will never be a perfect environment, but the animals in the circus are much better off in captivity than in the wild. Their life in the wild would be shorter – or worse, ended – in accordance with the policies of PETA.
From my experience, I can safely say the animals in the circus were always taken care of first, even before the performers. When we came to a new town, it was the animals that were settled and given lights, warmth and water before the performers. The performers couldn’t park their RVs until the animals were set up and settled in – we always had to work around them. The animals are the most important element of a circus and are treated like royalty.
John Campolongo, an animal trainer who worked mainly with tigers in zoos and circuses for the past 37 years, said that circus animals “become your children,” and that there is much more to them than what goes on in the ring.
The true experience of these animals and the views taken by their trainers should satisfy PETA, but they do not. Ignorance is the source of the problem, and if PETA and all animal activists who boycott and hate the circus would listen, maybe they would hear something more tuned to their beliefs.
Animal activists believe that animals “should be in nature,” Campolongo said. “Well, there is no more nature; there is no more room. They’ve been born and raised in captivity. (The animal activists said they) want the animals to be taken care of; I get up every single day (and do that). The only discrepancy is that they shouldn’t be performing. We both want the best care for them. I’m the biggest animal activist; I’m the guy who cares for the animals. I want the best for the animals.”
He’s right. Circuses and zoos are best for animals right now. Circuses in general have some of the highest reproductive rates for endangered species, which includes big cats – such as tigers and lions – and elephants. Circus workers are the biggest animal activists because they are doing what is right for the animals, not just yelling and handing out flyers about it.
The circuses are keeping endangered animals not only alive, but also happy and healthy. I agreed with Campolongo when he said, “I admire the animals for how magnificent they are and am honored because they respect me. My love is really with the animals.”
Amy Mariani is a freshman majoring in mass communications.