I have heard of this bit but don’t know much about it.
I’m happy to tell you about what I’ve observed.
When they aren’t performing, they [the animals] are kept in their (scrupulously clean) enclosures, napping or eating or getting groomed by the vet tech or animal attendants or trainers. Elephants have some kind of rubber mat thing on the ground in their tent; the horses, ponies, and camels have straw underfoot, and the dogs have either astroturf or sawdust. Horses, camels, and ponies are kept inside the venue, and when it’s nice out, the dogs are outside during the day, under shade if it’s hot and sunny. On chilly days the elephants have heat lamps blasting in their tent. I see the horses and ponies and camels get walked on non-show days. I am getting to be friends with the vet tech and she loves on these animals quite a bit. She has pets of her own on tour and takes incredible care of them, and I know she’s not the type to neglect or abuse. Another animal attendant has encouraged me to rub the nose of one of the camels because “he likes getting pets”. Obviously, both of these folks have affectionate relationships with the animals on tour.
A little anecdote: we have a dog act, and I understand that the star dog (a scrappy-looking sheepdog) was actually slated for the big E at the pound the day before she was adopted for the express purpose of saving and perhaps training. It’s pretty obvious how much the trainer loves this dog. I don’t know what kind of literature you’ve received, but I have to say that I can’t imagine our trainers or other animal-related workers being neglectful or abusive to the performing animals.
If your information says that circus animals live in filth and squalor and are suffering from neglect of water, food, and affection while they’re touring, that’s absolutely NOT going on in my tour. Truly. I’m pretty sure that the Ringling/Barnum & Bailey circus is the biggest circus with animals, so there should be plenty of resources to take good care of the animals while they tour. Also, I think that if the circus had something to hide, they wouldn’t allow non-performers backstage, ever, or they’d change their treatment of the animals on non-show days when no one is around. I have not observed anything like this; the care of the animals is consistent.
You might have deduced this about me, (simply from the fact that I read your blog) but I’m the type of person who takes pregnant cats in off the street when I’m eight months pregnant myself, I buy eggs for $6 a dozen because they’re from happy hens, and I mostly avoid eating meat so as to not give my money to the horrible industries that pack animals into tiny pens and cram them full of shit and pills before killing them. I’m that awkward person at parties who finds the resident animals and pets them instead of hanging with the humans. I don’t even like zoos that much (even though I love seeing animals up close). So you can imagine that I felt a bit of trepidation about seeing how the animals were treated when I found out we’d be traveling with the circus. I’m really happy (and relieved) to be able to tell you that I have observed clean, healthy, well-fed, and cared-for animals.
I have a feeling that the folks who dislike circuses and are trying to shut them down are the type of people who wouldn’t be happy no matter how the animals are treated, trained, and cared for. Some people just believe that humans are not the boss of animals. I struggle a bit with this myself, to be honest. In the end (for the same reason why I stopped being a strict vegetarian about seven years ago), I have concluded that it is the responsibility of humans to carefully use the intellect that sets us apart from (and above) the other animals. There’s nothing wrong with keeping pets, or running a zoo, or eating meat, or training animals to perform IF the animals are treated with care and respect for the sentient beings that they are.
I hope my super-verbose response is helpful. Best of luck with your piece. I’d like to read it when you’re done.