Ads for the Barnum and Bailey Circus are all over the local TV in Denver. And all over RTD buses that traverse the city, there are signs urging people not to go. Opposition to circuses is growing nationwide as more and more people become aware of how the performing animals are treated when they are not at center stage. Video footage of abusive handling tactics is becoming increasingly available online.
Animal advocates explain that training a circus animal isn’t anything like a day at the part teaching your dog to catch a Frisbee. In the plight of elephants is a point of focus this year. Much like humans, elephants are socially-bonded animals who display a complex emotions, including expressions of grief and compassion. They will even make tears and cry, explains Krystal Parks of the African Elephant support group Pachyderm Power. Parks works with wild elephants in Africa in a number of capacities.
Elephants may spend up to18 hours a day on the move, even where food is readily available where they are, so it is expected that the animals will feel constant discontent as they are confined to train cars or kept paved holding pens where they often have their legs chained. The process of tempering an elephant to tolerate this un-natural environment involves oppressive tactics which, when observed, are difficult not to describe as abusive.
Circus cats suffer the same issues of confinement and constraint. In addition, many of these cats are de-clawed, which renders them crippled within a few short years due to the nature of the operation. When the cats become too crippled to perform, they are left to whatever animal sanctuary might be able to accept them.
Jennifer Conrad, a veterinarian who has performed many surgeries on former circus cats that enabled the crippled animals to walk again, recently visited Denver to promote awareness on the impact of declawing. Conrad co-produced the Paw Project movie, named after the non-profit organization she runs on the west coast. The movie shoes the plight of many circus cats crippled from declawing. Paw Project is now operating a satellite office in Colorado which is headed by retired veterinarian Aubrey Lavizzo. With the help of local animal attorneys Garbiela Sandoval, Julie Picoone and others, Lavizzo is working to establish a ban on declawing cats in Colorado.
Circus cats could be benefactors if de-clawing bans were to go nationwide, but that movement is in its infancy. The move to ban circus’s from using animals are far more established. A number of US states, and even more US cities have partial or complete bans on the use of performing animals in a traveling circus. Worcester, MA is one of the newest US cities to be currently considering a ban.