Your Guide to the Reality of Animal Circus

"The academic panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

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Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Absurdity of Exploiting Trained Animals

KNUTSFORD, ENGLAND - MARCH 30: Police officers...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

This is another piece written from the heart with passion and commitment, emotions that unite  animal trainers with those who work with and look after animals whether they be in the entertainment industry  or private individuals. No-one can doubt the sincerity of the author and indeed we should applaud the  common sense way in which the whole debate is explained in simple terms , something we could all learn a lesson from. Sadly animals rights terrorism means that the author cannot be named for their own personal security

This article succinctly sums up the whole issue about exploitation. Exploitation is a very subjective word when it comes to reasoning human beings let alone creatures that don't govern themselves by morals and laws. We could argue that the four-year old child pictured here is being exploited. He is clearly way to young to vote and way too young to be considered to have the right reasoning capacity to decide his politics. However, by admission of his proud mother, Gabriel Ryan has been transported a long distance across the country (and will do again) to protest her cause! Any way, my rant is over. Please read on...

The Absurdity of "Exploiting Performing Animals"

Bear with me while I tell you a story – I promise there’s a point to it.

About 15 yrs ago, somebody very kindly threw a Staffie in my general direction. She urgently needed a home or she was going to be put down – what choice did I have but to take her in? What they didn't tell me at the time was that, through serious neglect and abuse she was incredibly nervous and scared of people, which made her very aggressive.

Now, aside from the fact that I don’t like my dogs to eat people, Staffies in this country don’t generally get a second chance – if a Lab bites a person, everybody asks what the person did wrong, but Staffies seem to be implicitly to blame. So, completely out of my depth, I sought the help of a trainer. We got her doing obedience, which she was quite good at but clearly hated, so we tried agility. Well, she LOVED that. She loved it to the point that, if you let her, she’d go off and do the course again and again on her own. She became much happier, confident and relaxed, and her prospects seemed much rosier.

So far, so good. I’m a lovely person, am I not? Rescuing a poor mistreated animal and doing my best to make her healthy and happy?

Okay, say she she got so good that I started taking her to proper agility shows. I’m getting to show her off, she’s having a good time, we’re both getting praises and, who knows, we might even win prizes. How do you feel about that? I reckon most people would find that acceptable, as long as I wasn’t pushing her beyond her limits.

What if she got so good, though, that she got spotted by a talent scout. If we got asked to go to paid talent shows – is that still ok? Maybe a spot in a television programme? She’s having fun, and it’s not costing me anything, in fact it may make me a few pennies. I bet the vast majority of the public would still be on my side. My little girl is going places!

This is a happy story. Unfortunately, many dogs end up in far less fortunate situations, in the hands of people who don’t have their best interest at heart. Picture a poor dog working on a circus. Every day, the unfortunate creature has to perform the same tricks, two, three times or more. If she does not get them right, I bet you she’s punished. I’ve not actually seen her be punished, but I’m sure she must be! And God only knows what suffering she went through for her to learn those tricks – they are not natural! And her owners are making money out of her work and suffering! Is this fair? How can people be so cruel as to exploit a poor animal, forcing her to perform for money?

Reality check – the last paragraph is entire nonsense. This is how the Animal Rights groups are trying to brainwash kind-hearted members of the public with emotional statements that mean nothing, but cannot be contradicted. Who would ever say that they approve of “exploiting performing animals”? You’d have to be a monster. This is loaded language, entirely devoid of meaning.

Firstly, humans classify activities as recreation, work, chores, training, performances, etc.. Wakey wakey - animals don’t. Animals, bless them, do not care whether you are training them, playing with them, or in the middle of a really important dressage test. They know if you mean business or not, whether you’re focused, stressed or relaxed, but as for themselves, they are just doing stuff - the concept of “performance” is quite beyond them. 

Secondly, I don’t know of any animal that stays awake at night because it’s not getting a fair proportion of its wages. Show dogs don’t sit in their kennels thinking “I do all the work and that bastard rakes the money in, it’s so unfair”. So, the concept of exploitation is rather lost on them. On the contrary, many social species are biologically evolved to want to please the leader and enjoy social play, dogs being a prime example of this. For them, doing something with their leader, and doing it well so that the leader is pleased, is a reward in its own right. If they are doing something they also enjoy, that’s just fantastic. It ticks all the boxes. 

What about "forcing animals do learn tricks”? Well, if you use extreme tactics, you can force most animals to do most things. However, let me let you into a secret – you can file this under “complete and total waste of time”. You can scare animals into doing something, but you can’t scare them into doing it with enthusiasm and a glint in their eyes. Furthermore, your relationship with the animals will be compromised, and animals do not dissemble. If they don’t like you, or the things they are doing, it will be painfully obvious to anyone who knows anything about that species. Your “performance” would look bad, and the whole process would be incredibly frustrating. It is not worth the time and effort.

Success lies into finding something the animals enjoy doing, teaching them to do it as well as possible, and rewarding them. It becomes a form of controlled play, making the most of the animals’ natural attitudes and abilities and doing wonders for your bond with each others.

Please note that I am not saying that you can’t abuse an animal by making it do things that will cause physical or psychological harm. You can push animals too far too soon, or even just allow them to push themselves too much, and that is abuse. However, preventing an animal from doing enough of the things it enjoys is also a form of abuse. For both types of extremes there are consequences on the physical and mental well-being of the animals, as many owners of neurotic, destructive, obese animals can attest.

Unfortunately, it is far too easy to appeal to our better nature by using loaded words. You will never get me to agree that it’s good for animals “to perform demeaning and unnatural tricks” - it sounds awful! That is a stock sentence from Born Free, a typical Animal Rights organisation. It’s a soundbite designed to raise your emotions, whilst stating no facts. Animals do not see things as we do. “Demeaning”, “unnatural” and “trick” are purely human concepts, entirely alien to the animals, hence meaningless in this context.

This is the absurdity of the Animal Rights propaganda. If I had taken my Staffie to work in a circus, suddenly she would have gone from being a well-looked-after, indulged pet to being an “exploited performing animal”. This is despite the fact that she would have done the things she enjoyed doing anyway, and being rewarded for doing them. Despite the fact that she didn't care about getting a percentage of the wages, or in fact could be aware that we were doing something for gain. Despite the fact that the concept of "performance" was entirely outside of her grasp - I might have performed, but she would have been playing. Despite the fact that my training methods would not have changed. Despite the fact that it would have enabled us to spend more time together, which would have made her far happier than waiting 8 hours for me to come back from work. And indeed, despite the fact that, being a soppy person, if I got extra money it would have translated into better food, toys, beds etc. for the “exploited” animal. Does this make sense to you? Is it not a form of discrimination?

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