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Shriner's Circus- Family fun or Animal Cruelty?

Elephants at Circus
Elephants at Circus
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March 27th will be the first day of the Shrine Circus in St. Paul Minnesota. Shriners have always been identified as a charitable fraternal organization that promotes multiple fund raising events to support their cause- and their cause appears to be a noble one. Who would question a group that supports children’s hospitals? Yet a multitude of complaints filed against the Shriners depicts a much more sinister group, one where the funds mainly go to support members of the fraternal organization rather than sick children, and where the funds are gained off the cruelty against helpless animals.

The Shrine Circus website entitled “For the love of animals,” paints a picture of a peaceful utopia where animals willingly perform tricks to please their human friends, the trainers.The site brags that the entire season of traveling is based upon the wants and needs of the animals, and that in addition to being fed once a day, these animals are “watered” multiple times a day. (It appears that the Shriners see these animals as plants.) The circus website further states, “We are proud of our circus families and the extraordinary care and attention our animals receive.” To see the Shrine Circus site go to the following link-

As if to prove the Shriner’s kindness toward animals, the website reminds us that the circus is routinely inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, (USDA.) However it appears that not all of these routine inspections went as planned. A trip to the USDA website will show that the Shrine circus, (as well as other circuses,) has been the subject of complaints by animal welfare groups, including the Animal Humane Society, for many, many years. See link for more information-

Visitors to the Shrine Circus website have posted the ongoing debate relating to circuses and animal cruelty. One woman says that she could tell the animals were happy performing, and even when they erred in their performances, the loving trainers only responded with a gently “love pat” of encouragement. Others have said that this is only what the public saw, and that love pat was likely followed by a beating with a bull hook after the curtain was drawn. This same woman commented that while an average elephant’s lifespan in the wild would be 70 years old, they are not likely to live past 39 when they are performing in a circus. It has also been pointed out that elephants usually travel about 20 miles a day while in the wild. Even though the Shriners brag that they have an exercise area for the animals when they are not traveling, training or performing, it is doubtful that they get the exercise they need while they are in captivity.

According to one organization, called “Mercy for Animals,” the Shrine Circus has been cited by the USDA for failure to provide veterinary care, as well as proper shelter, food and water. Even when the circus does pass the inspection by the USDA, one must ask if the inspector truly saw everything that was happening behind the scenes. Most of us can guess that a savvy trainer is not going to brutalize an animal when people are around to witness it. But according to one complaint, even when a small portion of the audience could see the trainer and the elephant behind a curtain, the trainer did not hesitate to mercilessly beating an elephant who had not performed his trick to the trainer’s liking.

Some might argue that the Shriner’s Circus, now in its 91st year, is a time honored tradition. Yet a person who studies American history, particularly the tragic struggles of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, might see that in the past 91 years we have made a lot of progress and we have dismantled many forms of abuse that were formerly legal and considered acceptable. From this vantage point, one can say maybe it’s time that some “traditions” be put to rest.

For more information about the circus and animal cruelty concerns, see the following links-

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