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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Friday, 22 June 2012

Britain's Got Talent, and Strange Bedfellows Too

In recent decades the Circus community has been plagued by false accusations of animal abuse and mistreatment.  Animal Rights organisations such as PETA, CAPS and Born Free, as well as allegedly more moderate Animal Welfare organisations such as the RSPCA have ganged up to vilify a whole industry and community.  At the bottom of these brutal campaigns is the claim that “travelling circuses, by their very nature, cannot meet the welfare needs of wild animals”.

This is despite the fact that the only independent scientific study of Animal Welfare in Circus, carried out by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington and commissioned by the RSPCA and UFAW (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare) demonstrated that “circuses do not by their nature cause suffering and distress in animals”.

The fact is that while thousands of people are taken to court by the RSPCA every year, no British Circus has ever been convicted of animal cruelty.

The campaigns conveniently ignore both the facts and the studies, and continue their harassment of animal circuses and their public.  Animal circuses are routinely subjected to verbal abuse, death threats, vandalism and theft.  The animals themselves are often subjected to cruel stunts by activists seeking to disrupt the shows – activists letting off fireworks near circus horses now happens so regularly as to be almost routine.
It is plainly obvious that a greater number of people support than oppose animal circus.  Go to a performance of Zippo's Circus, which includes horses and budgies, and you will find a handful of Animal Right activists protesting outside the gates (usually the same people day after day, clearly untroubled by having to work for a living) while hundreds of paying visitors inside enjoy the show.

Sadly, in this society it seems that it’s those who speak the loudest who win, rather than those who talk the most sense.  Local councils, private landowners and now even central government have buckled under the pressure that these activist organisations have put them under.  The opinion of activists who routinely resort to activities that can only be classed as terrorism has been put ahead of that of normal, law-abiding citizens.  Animal circuses have been banned from council-owned lands, with tax-paying residents generally not being consulted when the bans were put into place.  An increasing number of private landowners, worried by the very real threat of vandalism to their property or violence to themselves and their loved ones at the hands of activist, have equally opted not to allow animal circuses on their lands.  DEFRA has recently announced that: “The Government will seek to introduce primary legislation at the earliest opportunity to achieve its much-stated desire to ban travelling circuses from using performing wild animals.”  This ban is based on no science and no conviction – it is purely based on ethical grounds, although it remains unclear whose ethics it refers as the public has not been meaningfully consulted and allowed to state their opinion.
There were mixed feelings in the Circus community when Ashleigh and Pudsey deservedly won this year’s “Britain’s Got Talent”.  Many people were ecstatic as the victory would surely demonstrate to central government, local councils, landowners and the activists that the British public supports loved, well-kept, kindly trained performing animals.  The public paid good money to support Ashleigh and Pudsey with their votes; surely their victory would be a demonstration of where the public opinion sits.

On the other hand, there were concerns over the fact that Ashleigh is not a licensed animal trainer.  In this country the training and exhibition of performing animals is regulated by The Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925.  This requires trainers and exhibitors of such animals to be registered with the local authority.  Ashleigh's amateur status would excuse her requiring a license when entering the contest, but what about future performances?  Would she be deemed so favoured by the public as to be above the law?
Still, the general mood was positive.  The public would get to hear about Ashleigh’s training methods, which are based on positive rewards as those of all modern animal trainers.  The false myth that you have to make an animal suffer to force it to perform would be finally dispelled.  Seeing a much-loved pet perform willingly with his owner would show people that many animals are more than happy to “perform”, because to them it’s just play and social interaction.  This could only be good.  This could only help the cause of Animal Circus.

Yesterday’s unexpected bombshell put a sudden stop to all the hopes.  The pair have appeared in a poster campaign for PETA, titled “The Saddest Show on Earth”.  This is what Ashleigh has to say about the campaign: “Animals in the circus are whipped and beaten so that they will perform tricks. When they are not being forced to perform, they spend most of their lonely lives in tiny cages.”
Her allegations are clearly absurd.  Circus animals, like all animals in this country, are protected under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.  Under the Act animal keepers are now legally obliged to meet the following five basic needs:
  • For a suitable environment (place to live)
  • For a suitable diet
  • To exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • To be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
  • To be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.
Unlike privately-owned animals, Circus animals are regularly inspected by trained vets and inspectors and are routinely in the eyes of the public.  The abuse Ashleigh describes would be impossible to carry out in this country.  Circuses could not get away with it.  She is unfairly attacking animal trainers just like her, with no facts to support her accusations.

This is bad enough, but there is much worse.  PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, are generally taken by the public to be a charity designed to protect animals from abuse.  Unfortunately, they are not, and they don’t even claim to be.  This is from their website (

“The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation is a UK-based charity dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals.

Like humans, animals are capable of suffering and have interests in leading their own lives; therefore, they are not ours to use – for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation or any other reason. PETA and our affiliates around the world educate policymakers and the public about cruelty to animals and promote an understanding of the right of all animals to be treated with respect.”

Did you catch that?  Animals are not ours to use FOR ANY OTHER REASON.  That’s not saying that Ashleigh should not be able to starve, neglect or beat Pudsey.  That’s saying that she should not been able to keep him at all.  I cannot for the life of me understand PETA’s willingness to get into bed with Ashleigh, given that not only she is a pet owner, but she has also trained Pudsey to perform what PETA would call “unnatural” tricks.  Surely she represents everything they go against.  I can only assume that they have chosen to be blatantly hypocritical in order to benefit from Ashleigh’s fame.

It gets even worse.  Say PETA decide that Ashleigh can’t “use” Pudsey, because it prevents him “leading his own life”.  They take him from her.  What then?  He can’t “lead his own life”.  He’s a domestic pet.  If Ashleigh threw him out the door, I’m willing to bet he would not run off into the woods to commune with his wild ancestors, the wolves.  He would want to come back in where there’s safety, warmth, food and love.
So, what to do with all these emancipated pets?  PETA found a good answer to this conundrum.  Let’s put them down, then they cannot be repressed again!  I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.  Statistics from the US shows that out of 2345 animals removed from owners in 2010, 44 were adopted and 63 transferred.  The remaining 93.81% were put down.  That was actually a good year, as in 2009 the percentage of pets put down was 97.3%, and in 2008 it was 95.8%.
Many groups and organisations are now dedicated to informing the public of PETA's kill rate.   The truth is readily available out there.  If you are on Facebook, check out "PETA kills animals", "The truth about PETA", "Stop PETA" and "Consumer Freedom", amongst others.  
"The Centre for Consumer Freedom" recently published an article about the town of Norfolk, Virginia, where PETA runs a so-called “animal shelter” that really is an extermination camp.  The Norfolk city council has been has been debating an ordinance that would make the city-run animal shelter no-kill.  PETA disapproves.  "Part of the proposed Norfolk no-kill ordinance is a “trap-neuter-release” (TNR) program for feral cats. Stray cats are caught, sterilized, and released to live out their natural lives without producing more strays. To PETA, this TNR is an animal welfare problem. No, really: PETA would rather just kill feral cats than let them go after snipping them. In the words of a PETA “animal care and control specialist”:

We cannot in good conscience say that it’s safe for cats to live outside facing all of the dangers that they do. Euthanasia can be a mercy for a lot of those animals. It’s not popular, but it’s the truth. The alternative can be a fate worse than death more often than not for the cats that live on the street."

So, "slavery"  at the hand of caring pet owners is not acceptable.  Free life on the streets isn't acceptable either.  The only solution to the pet problem is clearly euthanasia, in PETA's eyes.  The New York Post suggested PETA should stand for “People Eradicating Thousands of Animals.”
Over 33% of PETA’s budget is spent on advertising to animal lovers, so they can take their money and use it to kill animals.  And people fall for it.
I don’t believe for a moment that Ashleigh truly supports an organisation whose ethics would support taking her beloved dog away from her and putting him down for his own good.  I also don’t believe that, as an animal trainer, she would have agreed to participate in a campaign to slander her professional equals, guilty of nothing more than choosing to train animals just as she does, by the same accepted methods.  Something MUST be wrong there.  Could it be that she did not bother to research the organisation she decided to represent?  Could it be that she believed their lies about Circus trainers without carrying out any research?
Even if she was that naïve, surely she must have management, a PR person, some sort of backup to prevent precisely this sort of slip.  There is such an obvious rift between the way in which she treats Pudsey and PETA’s ethics that something else must be afoot here.  She also does not support PETA’s ethics in her professional life.  For instance, she has been happy to perform at the Epson Derby, while PETA are vocal against horse racing.  The hypocrisy on both camps seems too extreme to be the result of innocent mistakes.

The question I am asking myself, and forgive me for being cynical, is “where is the money?”

Peta vs Animals

Astley's Legacy was formed to counter the misinformation and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. As well as fighting the corner for circus animals and their trainers, we are here to promote and celebrate the cultural heritage of circus in general, and especially in the country of its birth - Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group
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  1. An excellent article. What total hypocrisy. All animal training is based on the same principles as this girl uses on her dog including circus animals.

  2. Super article, just what was the agent playing at?

  3. Informative piece of writing. Thank you . Can only think Ashleigh did not research this properly . She is young . She needs guidance. It's a big bad world out there.