|circus (Photo credit: fsse8info)|
I have been working with dogs for years, and still people take me by surprise with their extreme kindness towards their pets. I have several elderly customers, not in the best of health, who take their equally elderly dogs out on strollers so they can enjoy a nice walk without overexerting themselves. I know plenty of ladies who perm and dye their own hair at home but fork out every month for their dogs to have “a proper groom”, because they “deserve it”. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a good proportion of my doggy customers eat better than their owners, and definitely better than me. Let’s face it; most of us are animal-mad here. We treat our animals well, and expect other people to maintain the same high standards with their animals.
The British public’s passion for animals was brought to the fore last May when Ashleigh and Pudsey, a dancing dog act, won the sixth edition of Britain’s Got Talent with a splendid 14% majority of public votes. Following their victory, they were honoured with an invitation to perform in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Because of our love of animals, animal cruelty in this country is considered barbaric, and reactions to it can be extreme. If you think that the previous sentence states the obvious, you need to consider that this is far from being the case worldwide. In many countries animals are still considered and treated as property. In Britain, on the other hand, we just don’t stand for this. Personally, I am willing to bet that as many bystanders would step in if they saw a person kick a dog as if they saw an adult slap a child. If you don’t agree with me, just remember the events of October 2011 in Grimsby, where short footage of a dog being allegedly abused by his owner resulted in an angry mob surrounding and attacking their house (http://www.thisisgrimsby.co.uk/Man-court-footage-dog-abuse/story-13609012-detail/story.html). We take this sort of thing seriously. Animal cruelty is a serious allegation.
“Ashleigh Butler is an animal abuser!” is the sort of statement that could get this blog shut down in a matter of days. In fact, if I was to make that allegation, I’d be lucky if I’d get away with just losing the blog. As well as most probably getting slapped around the face by angry fans, I’d most likely be looking at a court case for libel. You cannot get away with falsely accusing people of animal cruelty just as you would not get away with accusing them of domestic violence or child abuse. You just can’t engage in that sort of defamation in this country and get away with it. Or can you?
If you’re talking about Circuses, apparently you can.
British Circuses have spent years fighting a battle against the “Cruel Circus” slogan, which is snappy, catchy and emotive, yet means nothing. There have been to date no successful cruelty charges brought against a British Circus – not a single one. Yet, Animal Rights organisations appear to have the right to freely use the slogan, as well as using photos of British Circus trainers in their animal cruelty leaflets. If this doesn’t sound too bad to you, how about this: do you think that I would get away with launching a “Paedophilic Church” campaign and using photos of innocent priests in my leaflets? Not very likely, is it. Yet, a number of religious people have actually been convicted of paedophilia in a number of major scandals. At least there’d be a modicum of factual evidence behind it.
Imagine having a group of people waving placards with your picture on them, stating that you’re a horrible person, right at the end of your garden. Imagine people shouting abuse at you day in, day out; trying to convince other people that you’re essentially evil; wanting to stop you from carrying out your work, living the life you’ve chosen to live, and carrying on the traditions of your culture. This is what Circus animal trainers get on a regular basis. Animal rights campaigners – usually the same small groups of people following shows from town to town, clearly unencumbered by restrictions such as jobs – are allowed to picket just outside Circus grounds, which are the temporary homes of Circus performers. Imagine having to walk in front of a sign stating that you beat your dog (your child, your wife), and not been able to stop the defamation. How would you feel?
I am not sure why animal rights campaigners apparently have the right to falsely accuse and persecute innocent animal trainers. It might be partly to do with the fact that Circuses are easy targets. By their very nature, Circuses move around. This makes it harder for them to use the law against the activists. It takes time to identify, accuse and take to court someone slandering you. At the same time, Circuses must advertise their location to the public, which makes them easy to follow and harass.
This “freedom of defamation” is not unique to this country. Brian Boswell’s Circus, currently touring South Africa, has recently had to take a stance against a campaign of false lies and accusations regarding animal abuse. The campaign included both protests in front of the Circus and internet posts. The Circus has now been forced to engage lawyers to attempt to stop the defamation. The situation is even more absurd if you consider that the Circus has recently had to extend its stay in Durban by six weeks due to public demand. Would this level of public support be likely to happen if the animals showed any sign of abuse? (http://www.timeslive.co.za/thetimes/2012/08/02/circus-boss-cracks-whip). Meanwhile, in the USA, District Judge Emmet Sullivan has ruled that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus can proceed with a racketeering lawsuit against a coalition of animal rights groups. It is alleged that the activists paid a former Ringling Brothers trainer, Tom Rider, to encourage him to testify against the Circus in an animal cruelty case. (http://jonathanturley.org/2012/07/17/the-greatest-rico-claim-on-earth-ringling-brothers-allowed-to-pursue-animal-rights-organizations-in-racketeering-action/). The case took years of court time and cost an absolute fortune. Unfortunately for the Circus, they had to pay their legal costs out of their earnings, whilst the animal rights groups used money which well-meaning members of the public donated thinking it would go to help animals. Imagine paying for years towards what you believed was an animal charity just to find out that they were using your donations to commit a crime!
Both Brian Boswell’s Circus and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will have to incur further legal costs if they want to pursue their claims and clear their names. Many small Circuses would not have those financial resources. Ultimately, it is now so easy to start and circulate a nasty rumour. Anyone can post a page on the internet accusing anyone of anything. The fact that social media has become such a major part of people’s lives does not help. Yes, you can report the page and maybe even have it removed, but first you need to know it’s there. By the time you get to hear that there is a page against you, hundreds of people might have read it and taken it as gospel. Furthermore, it is not so easy to have a site closed down or even a Facebook page removed. Animal cruelty often does not fit easily into the normal reporting options. For instance, Facebook lists “spam or scam, hate speech, violence or harmful behaviour, sexually explicit content and duplicate or miscategorised page”. Accusations of animal abuse, which are essentially a type of Defamation of Character, do not fall into any of these categories, and are therefore allowed to carry on undisturbed.
The really depressing thing for me is that this nonsense campaign appears to be working. The British government announced this year that it intends to pursue a ban on the use of wild animals in Circus, on “ethical grounds”. The reasons are solely ethical as scientific research has not been able to show any proof of animal welfare failure in Circuses. So, the nation which invented Circus is now looking to engineer legislation to restrict its activities with no logical, factual or historical grounds for the ban. Clearly, they who shout the loudest, will win, even in a democracy.
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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/223570581049199